Communities of practice for continuing professional education
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The purpose of this study was to understand how communities of practice (CoPs) foster continuing professional education (CPE). The investigation was guided by four research questions. First, how did learning occur in this community of practice? Second, what was the knowledge produced in this community of practice? Third, how was an individual’s practice influenced by the community of practice? Last, what Indian socio-cultural factors shaped the process of learning, the knowledge produced, and the practice in the community? A qualitative case study was set in an educational consulting organization in India. The focus of the organization is to work with educators in K-12 environments to improve the quality of education. Data sources were triangulated using interviews, documents and on-site observations. Thirteen face-to-face interviews were conducted with consultants who are employed full-time or part-time in the organization. Data was analyzed using the constant comparative method. Four categories of interrelated findings were inductively derived. Findings of this study suggest that membership and interaction within a community of practice fosters CPE. Learning of the participants in this study occurred through structured interactions, informal interactions, hands-on experiences, and reflection. The community produced both professional as well as procedural knowledge. Professional knowledge helped the community to gain knowledge and skills relevant to the field of continuing professional education. Professional knowledge included a systems understanding. An individual’s practice evolved through membership in the community of practice as members expanded their repertoire of skills and responsibilities, and increased self-knowledge. The community’s practice was influenced by socio-cultural factors within the cultural context of India. Factors of age and gender, language, the Indian Education System, and poor infrastructure impacted the community of practice. Three conclusions were arrived at: (1) Learning is central to the professional advancement of a community of practice; (2) A professional evolves through participation in a community of practice; and (3) Socio-cultural factors in a context impact professional practice. The study revealed that CoPs can be an effective channel for CPE.