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ATD Blog

How to Optimize Organizational Learning


Wed Aug 24 2005


Recently while researching on the web on topics regarding Communities of Practice I came across the Community Intelligence Labs (CoIL) website. While it seems the website may have gone the way of the Brontosaurus (the last update was in Feb 2004), it's resources are still there for the viewing. Among them I found the following 14 guidelines on How to Optimize Organizational Learning written by Entienne Wenger in the summer of 1996 for the Healthcare Forum Journal.

I thought it would be interesting to get your take on these 14 guidelines now 9 years after Wenger first penned them. He introduced these guidelines with:


Here are the 14 guidelines to help you work with rather than

against the inner logic of organizational learning:

  1. View learning as work and work as learning. Recognize learning in all it's forms in order to find ways to nurture it and connect it across the organization.

  2. Count on the informal. That is where work gets done.

  3. If there is a learning problem, look for patterns of social participation and exclusion.

  4. Keep learning as close to practice as possible.

  5. Treat Communities of practice as assets.

  6. View individuals as members of communities of practice, not by stereotyping them, but by honoring the meaningfulness of their participation.

  7. Encourage the formation and deepening of communities of practice by legitimizing the work of pulling them together and valuing the informal learning they facilitate.

  8. Manage boundaries between communities of practice as opportunities for learning.

  9. Expect transformations, misunderstandings, and reinterpretations when people, artifacts and information cross boundaries of practice.

  10. Value the work of brokering learning among communities; it often does not look like work.

  11. Be attuned to the emergence of new practices at boundaries.

  12. View the organization as a constellation of interconnected practices.

  13. Put communities of practice in charge of their learning, recognizing that they need access to other practices in order to proceed.

  14. Make sure that the organizational apparatus is in the service of practices, and not the other way around.

Obviously, 9 years later, some of these guidelines are either proven or widely held to be true. I also would say it's obvious that communities of practice are thriving that would indicate that these guidelines are being well applied. Some of the questions I'd like to hear the LCB community chime in on are:

  • Are any of these guidelines obsolete, or impractical to such a level, that they should be struck from the list?

  • Which among the 14 are the "pain points" that corporate cultures just can't seem to get past, thus blocking the emergence of vibrant CoP's?

  • What's the role of collaborative technologies to date in this? Have they helped nudge along a very slow adaptation process? Or have then hindered the effort?

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