Community Of Practice Theory

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Alternate name(s)

Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP)

Mobile Community of Practice (MCoP)

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Knowledge sharing (provision or acquisition)

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Social interactions within community, reciprocity within community

Originating author(s)

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991)

Originating area

Social Science

Level of analysis

Individual, Group (Community)

Concise description of theory

According to the community of practice theory, members of a community interact with each other to share ideas and thoughts and expand their knowledge while doing so. The communities are like a closely-knit organisation whose members maintain interpersonal relations via interactions, negotiations, coordination, and communication in face-to-face settings[1].

The community of practice theory functions on the assumption that knowledge sharing between the community members is in the direction from experienced members to novice members[2]. Knowledge is intangible. Sharing it, using it or spreading it in the community does not decrease its value. Therefore, knowledge is considered a public good. Whenever knowledge is shared as a public good, there is motivation to spread it within the community due to moral obligation and reciprocity.

Network Practice Of Theory

Here the communities are geographically dispersed, and the members may not know each other personally. The network becomes extensive as the members communicate with multiple communities.

Electronic Network Of Practice Theory:

Community communication occurs in cyber-physical settings, supported by blogs, forums, and other web pages. Wenger, in the book “Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity”, divided the community of practice theory into two mechanisms, brokering and boundary objects[1]. Brokering indicates the participation of the members in community-related activities. When the members move across the community, they produce physical documents as boundary objects.

The electronic network of practice theory is also called “Virtual Community of Practice” (VCoP). Several community-based Question-Answer websites (CQA) like Quora or Stack Exchange are examples of ENP.

Diagram/schematic of theory

Interaction between members of communities to share knowledge.

Seminal articles

  • Knowledge and Organization: A Social-Practice Perspective (2001) Organization Science, 12 (2), pp. 198-213. Cited 2106 times. DOI: 10.1287/orsc.
  • Wenger, E. Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems (2000) Organization, 7 (2), pp. 225-246. Cited 2099 times. DOI: 10.1177/135050840072002
  • McLure Wasko, M., Faraj, S. "It is what one does": Why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice (2000) Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 9 (2-3), pp. 155-173. Cited 1404. DOI: 10.1016/S0963-8687(00)00045-7
  • Ardichvili, A., Page, V., Wentling, T. Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge-sharing communities of practice (2003) Journal of Knowledge Management, 7 (1), pp. 64-77. Cited 1046 times. DOI: 10.1108/13673270310463626
  • Reed, M.S., Evely, A.C., Cundill, G., Fazey, I., Glass, J., Laing, A., Newig, J., Parrish, B., Prell, C., Raymond, C., Stringer, L.C. What is social learning? (2010) Ecology and Society, 15 (4), . Cited 840 times. DOI: 10.5751/ES-03564-1504r01
  • Markus, M.L. Toward a theory of knowledge reuse: Types of knowledge reuse situations and factors in reuse success (2001) Journal of Management Information Systems, 18 (1), pp. 57-93. Cited 758 times. DOI: 10.1080/07421222.2001.11045671
  • Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S.L., Seymour, E. Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students' cognitive, personal, and professional development (2007) Science Education, 91 (1), pp. 36-74. Cited 718 times. DOI: 10.1002/sce.20173
  • Ferlie, E., Fitzgerald, L., Wood, M., Hawkins, C. The nonspread of innovations: The mediating role of professionals (2005) Academy of Management Journal, 48 (1), pp. 117-134. Cited 710 times. DOI: 10.5465/AMJ.2005.15993150
  • Pahl-Wostl, C., Craps, M., Dewulf, A., Mostert, E., Tabara, D., Taillieu, T. Social learning and water resources management (2007) Ecology and Society, 12 (2), art. no. 5, . Cited 706 times. DOI: 10.5751/ES-02037-120205

Key References Outside IS Research Area

  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gabbay, J., le May, A. Evidence based guidelines or collectively constructed “mindlines?” Ethnographic study of knowledge management in primary care (2004) BMJ, 329 (7473), p. 1013. Cited 663 times. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.329.7473.1013
  • Cross, R., Borgatti, S.P., Parker, A. Making invisible work visible: Using social network analysis to support strategic collaboration (2002) California Management Review, 44 (2), pp. 25-46. Cited 554 times. DOI: 10.2307/41166121
  • Lesser, E.L., Storck, J. Communities of practice and organizational performance (2001) IBM Systems Journal, 40 (4), pp. 831-841. Cited 546 times. DOI: 10.1147/sj.404.0831
  • Pelling, M., High, C. Understanding adaptation: What can social capital offer assessments of adaptive capacity? (2005) Global Environmental Change, 15 (4), pp. 308-319. Cited 545 times. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2005.02.001
  • Faraj, S., Xiao, Y. Coordination in fast-response organizations (2006) Management Science, 52 (8), pp. 1155-1169. Cited 526 times. DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.1060.0526
  • Contu, A., Willmott, H. Re-embedding situatedness: The importance of power relations in learning theory (2003) Organization Science, 14 (3), pp. 283-296. Cited 510 times. DOI: 10.1287/orsc.
  • Gherardi, S., Nicolini, D., Odella, F. Toward a social understanding of how people learn in organizations: The notion of situated curriculum (1998) Management Learning, 29 (3), pp. 273-297. Cited 489 times. DOI: 10.1177/1350507698293002
  • Wenger, E. Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept (2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, pp. 179-198. Cited 480 times. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-84996-133-2_11
  • Amin, A., Roberts, J. Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice (2008) Research Policy, 37 (2), pp. 353-369. Cited 478 times. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2007.11.003

IS articles that use the theory

In the literature, the community of practice theory (COP) has been used or multiple domains under IS.

  • To develop enterprise architecture, [Kotusev and Kurnia, 2021] uses COP to understand the stakeholder’s behaviour.
  • Using case studies, [Clarke, 2009] proposes a model to understand the teacher learning pattern in online teacher training courses.
  • To understand the role of a moderator in online communities, [Sallan et al., 2010] created a virtual COP to facilitate knowledge exchange between educational agents.
  • [Pan et al., 2015] highlighted the influence of social networks in knowledge management systems using virtual COP. In order to avoid the malware issues in BYOD due to user intention, [Dang-Pham and Pittayachawan, 2015] suggested strengthening COP ties to develop a secure culture.
Cited works:
  • [Clarke, 2009] Clarke, L. (2009). The pod model: Using communities of practice theory to conceptualise student teachers’ professional learning online.
  • [Dang-Pham and Pittayachawan, 2015] Dang-Pham, D. and Pittayachawan, S. (2015). Comparing intention to avoid malware across contexts in a byodenabled australian university: A protection motivation theory approach. Computers Security, 48:281–297.
  • [Kotusev and Kurnia, 2021] Kotusev, S. and Kurnia, S. (2021). The theoretical basis of enterprise architecture: A critical review and taxonomy of relevant theories. Journal of Information Technology, 36:275–315.
  • [Pan et al., 2015] Pan, Y., Xu, Y. C., Wang, X., Zhang, C., Ling, H., and Lin, J. (2015). Integrating social networking support for dyadic knowledge exchange: A study in a virtual community of practice. Information Management, 52(1):61–70.
  • [Sallan et al., 2010] SallÅLan, J., RodrÅLıguez-GÅLomez, D., and AsparÅLo, C. (2010). Who exactly is the moderator? a consideration of online knowledge management network moderation in educational organisations. Computers Education, 55:304–312.

Links from this theory to other theories


External Links

Wikipedia page for Community of Practice Theory

Wikipedia page for Virtual Community Of Practice

Wikipedia page for Network Of Practice


  1. 1.0 1.1 E. Wenger, Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  2. J. Lave and E. Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.


Soumya Mudgal, Doctoral Student at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India

Date last updated

21/08/2022 Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.