That's Communities of Practice!


Instructional Designer and founder of Learning Carton, Chris Karel, joins me to discuss communities of practice. We talk about what makes a community of practice and ways in which it might differ from a class or cohort. We also talk about how communities of practice might be used to describe different learning communities of the past, and think about how social media applications might enable the communities of practice of the future.

You can connect with Chris on Linkedin.

The following transcript was auto-generated and may contain typos or spelling errors.


Leslie Early

Okay, today I have the managing director of learning carton, Chris Karel here to talk about something that we have both been thinking about a lot these days, I saw a post that he did on LinkedIn about communities of practice. And I thought to bring him in. And let's have a talk about this, because it's definitely been on my mind these days as well. So thank you so much for joining me today, Chris.


Chris Karel

Thanks. So I'm happy to be here.


Leslie Early

So why don't you take a couple of moments to sort of introduce yourself and talk about your interest in communities of practice.


Chris Karel

Thanks. So my name is Chris Karel. And I am formerly a K 12. educator, I spent about 14 years teaching every grade from four through 12, and transitioned into media first, by the way of video production. And that led me back to education into working for an organization that created online training and elearning, specifically, and then I founded my own company a couple years ago, to do just that in a broader way, instead of just doing business to business type elearning. But to really think about learning instead of training, that's really been my foundational idea, and creating learning cartons. So I do create online learning courses for people and help organizations to organize their onboarding training programs and create individual courses, as well as help people who have thought leadership in a particular field. And so those folks want to get their knowledge out to somebody for benefit, or for profit, or for both. And so I work with those folks as well to help make it happen. And then being an educator, you know, I have a master's degree in education, my father was a teacher, I am an educator kind of, through and through. And so I have this plan in my works with the learning garden to be making content eventually, that people can benefit from by learning how to do what I do in the video space. So I do have a video for learning program that, you know, it's kind of that passion project someday, it'll be out there. And it'll be amazing. But right now, it's just mostly blog posts and fun things to talk about. So that's really the gist of learning cart and kind of where I'm at in 2020.


Leslie Early

Why don't you you do I love your videos that you post on LinkedIn, and they're short, and they're like, digestible, and they always have some interesting takeaway. So yeah, I think you're doing a lot to to help the community even though maybe to you right now, it feels like, you know, it's not enough. I totally get that I feel that almost every day too, but I think you really are making a positive impact. So don't be too hard on yourself.


Chris Karel

Thank you, the number of times that people say those that exact statement to me, if I could get paid by those statements, I would be all kinds of I am extremely hard on myself that way.


Leslie Early

So yeah, so but that does, I mean, that's a nice segue into this. The topic of community like I think all of us are trying in our own way to to give something back to the lnd. community and and what's the best way to do that? And, and so I have thought about communities of practice. I've heard about this term, a little bit, started thinking about it a little bit like what is the best way, you know, for people to get together and learn and support each other and share resources, but I'm kind of curious how you got to got interested in this topic.


Chris Karel

Sure. So I, I met a fella who has 10 plus years experience beyond me in elearning arm sorry, not elearning, but learning software, like making making products that are going to help and this was a K 12 product that this fellow made before. And he he and I got to talking about this new product that he's working on. It's called learn map, which is not out there yet. But it's something we're developing. And the concept around this is that a community of practice needs something that's not there in the market right now, in the learning in the learning tech, the edtech market, which is a way for us to interact in real time, the way we like to do in social media for online, right in terms of sharing videos, and, you know, like Reddit has, and slack have our I'm sorry, not slack, but Reddit has a nice way to like vote up or vote down people's feedback on certain things. And you can interact and then over time, that community you see, this gets a lot of more a lot more attention because you know, 10,000 people like this concept, this idea. And in a learning space, we don't have things like that right now. Right? And in a company organization and in a school or in a school organization. No one wants to really like take the handles off and let people just speak their mind about how they feel about topics. Right. So that's a little bit different. But there is a way I think to shape that in a community where we are literally all trying to accomplish some similar goal or we have that common mission right to try to do good, essentially, right, which is the thing I love about the lmd community is that most people you meet, you know, they have similar stories to the one I just shared, right? That they're in it because they like to educate, or they're in it because they like to help people. You know. And so the Community of Practice idea really resonated with me, because I've seen different ideas of what a community of practice is or can be. And then when I started learning about it myself, and I wrote, the beginner's guide was really an educational tool for myself that I shared with everybody. Because I found the concept fascinating, you know, and I'm like, there's really something here. And then COVID, kind of has all shown us that we're not doing a good job of communities of practice, right? Like, live video on zoom meeting teams isn't enough. Like, it's, you know, we missed the human component, and we missed the ability to take that information that we're sharing on all that stuff now, and turn it into something that can be used for, you know, future purposes, like somebody can learn from him, you know.


Leslie Early

So then I guess, um, based on, you know, he said, you've researched this a little bit, and you've written written about it, just so that you could wrap your head around it, which I totally relate with that. Like, once I know how to teach something, then that's when I really understand it. But until then, I don't fully understand it. But so if you had to give like a definition of what is a community practice? What What do you think that because, to me, it's still a little bit vague. What is a community of practice? So if you had to define that, what would you What would you say?


Chris Karel

Sure, well, there's a couple of researchers that wrote at length about this early on, you know, they did far more research than what I did for a blog post, right. And I think their definition is the one that's sort of the standard that's out there, which, which reads a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something that they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Right. So that's this, Etienne wagar. winger, I think is how you say their name and trainer, it's a hyphen, it's a it's a duo that did the research. And so you know, I like the brevity of that statement, you know, a group of people who have a share a common concern, that's a lot of groups and said, you can say that's the definition of a group essentially, right? Unless you're forced into it, or assigned into it. Like if you're in a classroom, you're in that class, because you're taking a particular course or you're in a grade or, or you're in a company, you may be assigned into a cohort or learning path, right? Or a group, right? If you come in and you're on boarded at the same time thing, so that those are we all know that those exists, and they're there. And I think the difference is, are people really learning how to do it? Whatever it is, are they learning how to do it better? Through interaction, right? Traditional like elearning, in a corporate environment, or even IoT in a corporate environment? There's a lot that's done by different organizations to figure out whether or not people are learning and they're tracking. But I've seen it's way too common that it's just like, well, we just did it. And we're not really paying attention a year or two later, whether or not they actually are getting better at their jobs, or are they improving, and no one really asked people, you have to check some little boxes and answer some quiz questions, you know, in a knowledge check or an assessment. And I know that's what's happening, because I make that stuff, right, like I do that. It's not, I'm not saying this as a as, like, I'm bagging on companies or organization or schools for doing that it's very difficult to measure learning success, right? It really is. But where it can be done and where the technology is starting to come around is we can now interact with people in a more qualitative way that arrives more at intrinsic motivation, as opposed to like, you have to take this training because it's required, and this is what you get through and then don't people don't look at it the same way they look at it. Well, I think of as training as opposed to as learning, you know, people aren't talking about how will you learn how to do this better, because it's going to make you better at your job. Or perhaps you learn how to do it. So well, you go out and do something else, or you start your own, or you learn so well, that now you skip into a different field. That that's that's opening up the limitations that are usually placed on learning or training. And that's where I think the beauty of a community of practice, that's the potential of it, don't really know that it's there. I mean, examples that I found, I was looking at that, like, there was one Xerox where that was kind of, they had everybody talking at lunchtime on how to fix copiers, right? And then their lessons they learned and then the organization's like, well, we should probably like put this all together and put it in the database. And that Yeah, and like, document the shit the communal knowledge. Exactly. Yeah. And I think those are fairly common inside of organizations and businesses, you know, and I've helped build a lot of corporate academies, you know, I've been a part of helping create those curriculums. And those arereally dynamic? There's a lot of things around it. I don't know if they're true communities of practice, because I like to think of that is that? Are they getting better? Because they're interacting regularly? Or are they just checking the boxes of the skills to move to the next step? And the trainer's are saying, okay, they're good, right? Whereas in a community of practice, people want to be there, right. And they're learning because there's new material being generated because of it, which really into that concept of like employee generated content or user generated content, which is usually what scares large companies, because now you're giving control over to the employee. Right?


Leslie Early

Yeah, I think I think you're hitting on something. Yeah, I think you're you're talking about what what we're really talking about here is, where's the motivation, because that definition you gave was, like, sounded very intrinsically motivated. Like, this is a group of people who come together because they have a shared interest. And particularly an interesting getting better at something. And that comes from themselves. It's not coming from like, the company has a one year goal that we need to upskill in this, this A, B or C. It's more like, the people in the company for whatever reason have decided or it doesn't have to be an accompany, really. But the people have decided, we all want to get better at this. So how can we help each other get better at this? It's sort of to take it back. Like, you know, I'm a big fan of like, historical fiction, and like, you know, even just historical nonfiction, but it's sort of like that, like salon culture, have like the days gone by where like, like a bunch of artists or poets or writers will like, they just get together and hang out in cafes, and like, you know, share their insights on what they're learning or doing. And maybe they're not documenting it, I guess, but enough that we all know about it, that it that it happened. But that's kind of what I'm thinking it's feels a little more informal than like a corporate Academy or something. Sorry, I really went on tangent there. But that's kind of how I'm trying to wrap my brain around what it is yes.


Chris Karel

And there's examples of that, that I found, in fact, in the original research that's there, they say, like the Impressionists were considered one of the first communities of practice because just like you said, they they were, you know, different. They were solo painters that went home or solo sculptors that went home and did their work, right? I don't know if there's a sculptor now that I've said that out loud, but you get what I'm saying they would come together at a cafe and talk about different things, then they would go home and do that. Now, that brings up the question of like, well, what is learning? And how do people learn? back then? There was no internet, there wasn't even very many books, right? There was you learned through an oral tradition, right? That's what made that a community because they came together, right? No one was forcing them, there was no mandate from an organization telling them you need to go have coffee between two and four, and you'll become a better painter. That way. You know, yeah, they may have intrinsically learned, hey, if I go hang out with, you know, Monet, I'm probably gonna end up in the museum someday, I don't know if they ever felt that way. I don't even know if that was a thing. Probably like I being in art communities over the years, you see somebody who's really great at it, and you're drawn to them, you are open to allowing you to learn from them. Right. And I think learning for me anyways, I think it's kind of the same thing. There's, there's an anyway to it, it draws you to want to do it with you are motivated to get excited about what that person has to offer you. Like there's booties, that are like, just being around that person is going to help me be smarter if I'm open to learning from them. You know, when I think of the community of practice, I think the informal peace is a huge part of it. Like if you can have user generated content, like if I'm able to put up a video that says this is about a community of practices. And so what do you think this is my position and someone throws a video up after that, that says, Well, I think it's actually this and that now we're having an interaction that's trackable, measurable digitally, and people can respond to it, people can rank it. And then they might say, Well, Chris had the original post. But like, you know, Leslie had one like 10, later, that really hit home. And that one is now ranked higher. And it's not a ranking as in like, you get gold like red gold, and now you're better. But it's like, that's what the community has decided is the expert view of that. Yeah, we have that. I don't know of that. In any space right now, where we're deciding how and how learning gets moved up that way, informally, we have traditional ways. Obviously, you want to publish something, you've got to go through a path to make that happen. Peer Review, there's all these formal steps but for knowledge, the way it's being shared now community over the internet through things like Tick Tock and Reddit and now clubhouse where it's all just like, it's kind of like a little wide open right? There, but there's no way to like differentiate what's good, what's not. And I think that finding a way to do that with a tool, which I don't know if it's there yet, I don't know if the tool that work that I talked to you about at the beginning of this is going to do that, but I'm excited about the prospect that it might write a place where you can go get that information and see, hey, there's a lot of really smart people in here talking about this. And here's their content about it and look at people's responses. Now we're deepening knowledge. Right? Without the, in my opinion without the fear of like, well, it's mine, you can't take that and go, you know, turn it. What do you know?


Leslie Early

Yeah, like a free exchange of information? Um, yeah. And it's sort of like, I guess we things like slack or other social media platforms, like, sort of, or maybe the infancy like message boards themselves are sort of trying to recreate that in the virtual space. But they're also missing that thing that you're talking about of like, how do we, first of all, document what the dialogue that's happening in slack because you show up one day, and and you're lucky to see a really important conversation, but if you show up a day later, that's been gone, like you lost it, and there's no way to get it back. And it's not easily searchable. unless somebody's pinning it or, you know, different things like that, that manually are done. But what I'm hearing you say is that the if we had a way to, like you said, like, rate things so that they're staying more prominent in the feed, or just directing people to discussions that maybe had more feedback had more weight to them. I don't even know what I'm trying to say here. But I think, really just iterating what you said much more eloquently, but also, the idea that it should be searchable like it that you can't that it's not so effervescent that if you don't show it like that's the thing about clubhouse, right, if you miss the call or miss the conversation, you miss it, like you're not supposed to be recording any of it. I'm sure people are but like you shouldn't be, and and you just lose it. And so, yeah, it's it's tricky. So I think that's a noble goal to try and find find an app or a platform that can handle all of that.


Chris Karel

Yeah. And I think I think the part that I like about it, it's even in the name of that product I mentioned is the whole idea of mapping, right? And I and I look at it analogous, like in a community of practice, I look at it analogous to what a web browser did when it first came online, right? Because I'm old enough to remember when internet was getting going. I had Netscape Navigator and all these other ones right out of the gate. And they were dreadful, right? But mostly, because you could get lost in places you're like, I don't need I want to go back to this thing. And then it only remembered like a handful of them. You went too far, because your memory on your computer didn't have it. But there was a that you know, what the web has given us now with browsers in the way we interact. And when it jumped to mobile. Now we have the ability to map where things are at that we need, right? Hmm. And it's always around purpose, like what do you need it for? So we have different apps that are only situation specific to like, you know, app for riding a bike, right that I track, when I get on a bike and ride somewhere. I'm only using it for that. I mean, I could use a universal thing like Google Maps and track it. But that's just for that. And then there's a community in there. And inside that communities, I can get kudos from a friend that lives in California that says like, Hey, I saw your ride. That's awesome. And then you can post pictures in there. And now we've got I wouldn't call that a community of practice. But I think it's an evolution in how we're interacting, right? Because it used to be like one social media where that happened, right? You'd go and everybody like Facebook was that way for a while. Everybody put everything there. And then we and we saw there's weaknesses in that, because for a variety of reasons, and now things have gone maybe more specific. And I think learning is naturally following that as you see all this different edtech, like just booming all over the place. You can do this, you know, you can do one thing with this app, but you can't do with that. And the learning landscape for people have to consume technology in our organization. Like you have Slack, you have teams, you have your shared drive, you have you know, you have your LMS that you have to go into. And it's like, boy, I don't know where everything's at, you know, I'm like, traditionally going to go make a course to teach you how to do something when, you know, john over here might have been doing it for 20 years, if we can just get john to record a video for five minutes. How to do it. We don't need, you know, the Learning Carton or some other vendor to spend six to 12 weeks making a course Yeah, then all these people would not have been able to learn it. But what if we can get john to record it, stick it in a place where people can sit and then we turned into a map from there, right? Something like, Hey, here's John's checklist. All of a sudden, you've created really dynamic expert learning, right or expert training, if it's step or process oriented, that you can turn around really quick, because you use john as the expert, as opposed to an l&d person that's gonna take time, right? That's what I think excites me about the community of practices really. It's trusting the learning process and then supporting it, you know, through interaction, right. So


Leslie Early

Yeah, I agree. So I guess my last question then is, I, I, for myself think I have been involved or I'm currently in involved in somewhat of a community of practice around podcasting, but I paid in to be into that which may be maybe paying to get into something is a good way to make sure people are motivated, I guess. But so I think that's a pretty from what I've seen, it's been a pretty successful community of practice, based on this definition. Have you been involved? Or have you had experience in a successful community of practice that, you know, so?


Chris Karel

So I would say that I think I have an educational settings, right, like my master's degree program that I went through at any inaccuracy in Seattle had some clps definitely happening, because we are constantly interacting, that's a little different being school based. And again, I'm paying to be there, right. So there is a little bit of a barrier to entry. And I do feel like I've done a similar one on a Slack channel, right, where I have met and interacted with other people like me, that are entrepreneurs or small business people in the learning community, and we've benefited by interacting on that. But that platform hasn't been the only It's been one way that the community maintains there's offshoot from that there's other little subgroups that meet right. Where I think we fall short is that no one's collecting that knowledge anywhere and saying like, this is how you do X, Y, and Z. No one's operationalizing it essentially, again, no one's really trying to do that.


Chris Karel

However, I see some people that are in that group, then go start their communities, right, like the one you're describing about podcasting. In fact, there's two in my head right now that I think of for freelancing in instructional design, where they're generating this community that you buy into, which I think is a value. Because I've done that for myself for creating courses where I bought into


Chris Karel

Danielle Leslie's course from scratch program that I found through, I found through a kajabi webinar thing, I'm like, maybe I'll do kajabi. And I watch this webinar on like, buying Daniel Leslie's things by the end, because she's an amazing marketer. But what you buy into is literally a community of practice, you're in for life, here's all these resources. And that, to me is definitely a community practice. However, it's community practice, profit, because she and her company is benefiting from that. However, the value to me is far greater than what I'm paying for it, or will be eventually, right. Because not only are we coming together in these groups, like they go through Facebook groups and, and phone calls, like there's live webinar calls, every two weeks.


Chris Karel

We're learning how to do what we want to do, which is create courses, as a group, and then we're encouraged to form subgroups to go do that. So I would say for sure, that is a community practice, and it's definitely successful. But you're right. It's not like just something you find for free out there. Like I had to find that and decide, alright, I'm going to pull the trigger on and invest in this. I think there's great value in that without a doubt, because it does help with the motivation, as you said, right? More so than it's a burden, right? It's like I spent money on this, I need to get in and do this. Right?


Leslie Early

Well, I think also what, maybe not something we actually really explicitly talked about in this conversation. But the idea that communities of practice are more successful, or in my opinion, might have a better chance of success. If you have varying degrees of expertise within that community. Like if you're going to learn from a master, that is a lot more beneficial than then, you know, a group of all equally experienced people who are sort of not to be rude, but you know, like the blind leading the blind, sometimes they're like, it's always you learn more and faster if there's someone who's a few steps ahead, at least who is there to help out. So I think paid communities of practice are LED, and the person profiting is usually the person with the expertise. And so sometimes that's, that that's what you're paying for it really.


Chris Karel

Yeah, I think you're I think you hit the nail completely on the head with that one. I do think that's exactly what a community of practice needs to be in order for it to have a long life, you need a varying skill level scale, right, from novice to expert needs to be in that community. And that's, I think that's where the model that that they've described, the creative practice, the original researchers, you know, if you look at the Xerox example, or the impressionist example, there's always people who were junior to the senior people, they're benefiting from the knowledge that's passed down. And that's how we've done education from the beginning of humanity for Probably, yeah, essentially, apprenticeships always been there, or the adult teaching the child that it's just a natural way of things to be done. But what we have at our disposal now through technology and our Global Connections, I think it's limitless on what we can potentially learn and figure out how to operationalize To learn even faster, yeah, way more than even 10 years ago, I mean, the stuff that we can find out about a particular group of people or a culture or food, I mean, in moments, we can learn that. But now, what do you do with that knowledge that you have it? Right? Yeah. Question.


Leslie Early

Well, I thought this, this is a very interesting conversation, and that I do have. Now I have this hope that Yeah, maybe we are still in like the Netscape era of social media and social learning, and that eventually, we will get, you know, 10-15 years down the line, there's going to be more resources to sort of that are more intuitive for how we are supposed to be learning or how we've been used to learning for, you know, millennia.


Chris Karel

Yeah, I don't know if this if this deepens because I know we're winding down here if this deepens, or potentially sets up the next thing, but I have been obsessed with this continuum of learning lately, which kind of that starts with, like, what we do in online learning. And like 1998, elearning was like the thing, right? Yeah, just just weird.


Chris Karel

Like, learning online was just like the best thing. And now in 2021, we're looking at we're learning in the flow of work. And there's all different things like I just mentioned to you that stack of different products and different applications that are available to people, including before COVID in person training, and one on one instruction, right, all of that is now considered to be learning in the flow of work. And elearning is not how we're doing training, or how we're doing instruction in schools, for sure. And we're getting this blend, right and not blended IV, IoT and elearning, we're getting all different ways of learning, including this online component that was never there. Because online components in our pocket now not in a laptop or a PC.


Chris Karel

And it's it's really opened things up to the point where I'm wondering what that continuum will look like 10 years from now, because I do believe there's things that are being made now and ways people are learning how to do things that will look very different than where we're at right now. You know, and, and for the for the good. But that's how I look at everything is that we should be leading towards the good and not the destruction of humanity from technology.


Leslie Early

There's a lot of good to be had from technology for sure. I'm sure it helped a lot of us get through the last year. All right. Well, this was a very interesting conversation. So thank you and coming to chat with me today, Chris.


Chris Karel

You're very welcome. It was an absolute pleasure.


Leslie Early

Well, I think I maybe jumped the gun there. But actually, I was, I meant to ask, if people did want to continue the conversation, where can they connect with you?


Chris Karel

So I would encourage anyone listening to reach out to me on LinkedIn, I'm there on a regular basis. It's my number one social media. I post a blog post every Tuesday and a video every Thursday, and is the best way to connect with me. And then I usually shoot out by other groups from LinkedIn, but it's it's the single greatest one for me right now.


Leslie Early

Okay, sounds good. All right. Well, thank you again, so much, Chris.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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