Learning in an Informal Web-Based Community of Practice: A Study of Community, Interpersonal, and Individual Planes
Gyeong Mi Heo, McGill University , Canada
McGill University . Awarded
This thesis focuses on investigating learning occurring in a web-based community of foodservice professionals, which is informally structured and based on voluntary participation, using concepts from the "communities of practice" (CoP) (Wenger, 1998) paradigm. As an informal learning environment, the web-based community was investigated based on three planes (Rogoff, 1998): Community (i.e., how does learning occur in the web-based community?), Interpersonal (i.e., how does learning occur between participants of the web-based community?), and Individual (i.e., how does individual learning occur through participating in the web-based community?).
Under the umbrella of the online ethnographic approach, I applied mixed-method research combining multiple data sources (i.e., discussion transcripts, online survey, online interviews, ethnographic observation, and other documents) and analytical methods (i.e., descriptive framework for CoP, content analysis, transcript analysis, and descriptive statistics).
In terms of the community plane, the web-based community was explored by applying the descriptive framework for communities of practice consisting of observable and measurable indicators in terms of organization, participation, and outcome. With regard to the interpersonal plane, I explored how learning occurs between participants of the WBC: How do participants interact with each other and what do they share through their interactions? To do that, the processes of interaction and learning were examined according to the size of threads (i.e., small, medium, and large sizes). For the individual plane, I examined (a) individuals' epistemological beliefs and (b) individuals' change of roles in relation to the degree of participation. Based on the results investigated in each plane, I discussed general characteristics of this web-based community as informal learning environment, effective features fostering interaction and learning in this web based community, and possible trajectories of the web-based community evolving for a community of practice.
The importance of this study lies in its contributions to the conceptual framework (i.e., descriptive framework for communities of practice) and the methodological approach (i.e., multi-layered analytical approach) developed and applied in this thesis. The descriptive framework enables us to identify some defining features that distinguish communities of practice from other structures and hence to establish guidelines for monitoring how communities of practice evolve and what makes them evolve in successful ways. In addition, this study offers useful implications for designing and supporting web-based communities even in formal and non-formal learning environments. Because this study employed an exploratory, interpretive approach and concentrated on the breadth of learning in a web-based community through different planes, the results offer broader aspects of learning rather than specific, intensive issues of learning in this web-based community. Therefore, further studies are suggested along with the issues derived from this thesis.
Heo, G.M. Learning in an Informal Web-Based Community of Practice: A Study of Community, Interpersonal, and Individual Planes. Ph.D. thesis, McGill University.
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