Getting a Community of Practice (CoP) off the ground is no mean feat. Identifying your purpose is key. But then comes the challenge of keeping it going and maintaining relevance.

At a recent meeting of the Teaching and Leadership Community of Practice (T&L CoP – a CoP for the Teaching & Leadership community at Macquarie that commenced in 2020) we heard from a panel of MQ staff who have started their own communities of practice. Here we share their ideas, together with insights from our own experience in developing the T&L CoP, to provide a roadmap on creating and maintaining a successful and relevant community of practice.

Thanks to the following staff for sharing their experiences in building communities of practice in learning and teaching at Macquarie:
* Aron Downie (CoP for convenors of 1st year units in FMHHS)
* Morwenna Kirwan (ENRICH CoP)
* Kate Lloyd (WIL CoP)
* Jen Ruskin (WIL CoP)

What exactly is a community of practice?

A community of practice (CoP) is an informal group who share knowledge and seek creative approaches to collective problems (Wenger and Snyder, 2000). The concept originated from Lave and Wenger’s (1991) work on apprenticeships and situated learning and was later embedded within a social theory of learning (Wenger, 1998).

Learning in a CoP is conceptualised through four elements: meaning (learning as experience), practice (learning as doing), community (learning as belonging), and identity (learning as becoming) (Wenger, 1998).

Over time, a shared identity is fostered by negotiating a common purpose and meaning as a learning community. The rules governing membership and governance of CoPs vary (Hung et al., 2005; Millen et al., 2002; Probst & Borzillo, 2008), but the aim is for participants to develop a collaborative mentoring relationship that supports ongoing learning (Warren, 2006).

Why opt for a CoP?

There are often many formal channels across a department, faculty or the university for communicating information, discussing ideas and developing/delivering strategic approaches or learning through seminars. The beauty of a community of practice is that it provides an informal (safe) space to navigate what is needed in delivering our teaching or other initiatives.

A CoP brings together like-minded people to have informal conversations on a range of focused issues and their impact in the classroom. It is a forum to share common frustrations – and solutions – and at the same time, it can empower staff.

Members may be across all levels from new to experienced and this facilitates mentoring and collective learning from more practiced members.

The sense of belonging and community that a CoP can foster is especially important where there are staff who may be one of only a few in their team/department that are involved in a particular area. CoPs can enable connections across departments and faculties, and between academic and professional staff.

Advice for starting a community of practice

If you are thinking of starting a community of practice, then consider this advice:

  1. Clarity of purpose is essential. Define the overarching goals and objectives of the CoP – it should solve a distinct problem. Ideally, it should be special and unique and not replicate any existing initiatives.
  2. Don’t do it alone. Reach out for support. Gather a group with a wide range of skills and invite others as guests otherwise it can be a lot of work.

Nurturing and sustaining a vibrant CoP

Steps to success:

  1. Have a clear purpose for your community of practice
  2. Obtain higher level support for your CoP to help promote it to relevant staff.
  3. Organise an initial meeting.
  4. Get a sense from those who attend on the topics and issues they are interested in to help shape the vision for the group. Recognise that everyone may be time-poor so you could perhaps ask them for 5 top priority challenges they would like to explore.
  5. Maintain engagement by offering something every month.
  6. Invite guest speakers on specific topics or ask members if they have any successes they want to share in a future CoP meeting.
  7. Continue to respond to the needs of the members by regularly surveying them on what they want to ensure that the agenda remains relevant and meaningful to all stakeholders and responsive to current needs.
  8. See if you can ask for some money to provide food for a networking event as this can help sustain interest and participation.

Learning and teaching communities of practice at Macquarie

You may like to join one of the below groups.

Name of CoPPurpose / who is it forHow to join
Teaching and Leadership (T&L) CoP  For teaching and leadership job family members, teachers at any level and professional staff in teaching and learning support roles.Join the T&L CoP here
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) CoPFor anyone whose teaching involves aspects of work integrated learning.

Listen to this audio snippet about the WIL CoP.
Join the WIL CoP here
FMHHS ENRICH – Early career educators’ Network for Reflection, Innovation, Collaboration and Health For early-career educators in the FMHHS who would like to grow, learn and connect.

Listen to this audio snippet about ENRICH.
Join ENRICH here
1st Year Unit Convenors
For FMHHS Unit Convenors involved with delivery of teaching to 1st year students.

Listen to this audio snippet about the 1st Year UC CoP.
Mudang-Dali Indigenous Connected Curriculum CoPFor anyone seeking to participate in implementing Indigenous perspectives across the university in authentic and meaningful ways.Join the Mudang-Dali CoP here
Learning and Teaching SWAT TeamFor learning designers and learning and teaching support staff to collaboratively solve problems and share ideas and practice related to learning and teaching design and learning technologies.Contact
Podcast Discussion Club Like a book club, for podcasts. For anyone interested in discussing topical learning and teaching issues. Join the Podcast Discussion Club here
For more information, visit the Communities of Practice site on the staff intranet.

View the full recording from the Teaching & Leadership Community of Practice panel discussion about creating communities of practice (21 mins).


Hung, D., Chee, T.S., Hedberg, J.G., & Seng, K.T. (2005). A framework for fostering a community of practice: Scaffolding learners through an evolving continuum. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 159–176.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Millen, D.R., Fontaine, M.A., & Muller, M.J. (2002). Understanding the benefit and costs of communities of practice. Communications of the ACM, 45(4), 69–73.

Probst, G., & Borzillo, S. (2008). Why communities of practice succeed and why they fail. European Management Journal, 26(5), 335–347.

Warren, M. (2006). A decade of change: Mentor groups acting as communities of learners. In C. Cullingford (Ed.), Mentoring in education: An international perspective (pp. 11–32). Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W, M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review 78(1): 139–145.

Banner image: Photo by on Shutterstock
Post edited by Kylie Coaldrake

Posted by L&T Development

The Learning and Teaching Staff Development team works with staff across the University to ensure they are supported to facilitate quality learning for students. This includes offering professional development, contributing to curriculum and assessment design, recognising and rewarding good practice, supporting peer review of teaching, and leading scholarly reflection. Email with questions or requests.

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