For the last four or five months, I've been speaking about communities of practice (CoP) as a model for 1) propagating Drupal culture through this period of rapid growth and adoption 2) supplementing Drupal training, and 3) helping facilitate Drupal learning where professional training is not a practical option.
After blogging about it and subjecting my drupalfriends to lengthy rants about CoP, it was a real pleasure, when bringing up the topic yesterday at a DrupalCon lunch, fellow Drupalista Heather James (@hjames) responded : Oh yes! Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave! Communities of Practice!. Heather and I went off at a hundred miles an hour like two friends who just realized they shared a secret, and at the end of the conversation, everyone was asking for a bibliography.
(If you're just here for the bibliography, you can find it below)
So why are these communities of practice so important to me?
Imagine a group of people who live the same city and want to become Drupal ninjas. Some have full time jobs so they can't take 3-5 days off for training, others may have no job and don't have the money. Their best option for shortening the path to expertise is to band together, meet regularly, work on projects together (their own or group projects), and share solutions to each others problems. This was the idea behind the Austin Drupal Dojo
The path to Drupal expertise requires a sustained effort. While a top notch training program -- such as the ones offered by Lullabot -- can be transformative, it generally only lasts several days. To fully retain and build on the knowledge acquired, it is necessary to be able to share and discuss it with others -- in a working context.
Monthly meetups are insufficient for those who wish to accelerate their learning. There need to be working/practice groups for theming, module development, API study, performance tuning. One size does not fit all. For someone who wants to be a module developer, imagine how much more quickly that goal will be achieved if there is a local special interest group (SIG) for module development. This is the idea behind the Austin Drupal Theming Study Group -- which I'll be launching this week.
Don't wait for my next blog post. Go ahead. Start your own group.
The beauty of all this is that you don't have to be an expert to get something going. Take a DIY approach. Pick whatever topic in Drupal you want to master. Send emails to all the Drupalists in your town announcing your intention to start a group to master the topic. Don't go for numbers. Three or four like-minded people will be plenty. You'll quickly become masters, and gain a few friends in the process.
Although you can find a tremendous amount of information by simply searching Google for communities of practice. much of it is long-winded and pedantic -- like the stuff your college professors wrote to get tenure. When I first began learning about CoP, there was little information on the web. These were the books which I found useful:
Etienne Wenger. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
This book is heavy on theory. For practical application, you'll find the book below much more useful.
Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William M. Snyder. Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business Press, 2002.
Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Learning cannot be separated from context. Listening and responding to a foreign language tape is different from participating in an actual conversation. Martial arts training is different from participating in a street fight. Sitting in a Drupal class is different from working on a Drupal project.
Additional related titles which influenced my thoughts on learning and learning communites:
Bonnie A. Nardi & Vicki L. O'Day. Information ecologies : using technology with heart. MIT Press, 1999.
Lucy A. Suchman. Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. MIT Press, 1991.
Andy Clark. Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World together Again. MIT Press, 1997.
Horst Hendriks-Jansen. Catching Ourselves in the Act: Situated Activity, Interactive Emergence, Evolution, and Human Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
James V. Wertsch. Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action. Harvard University Press, 1991.