An online Community of Practice (CoP) is an interactive, dynamic, and robust Web space where people who are interested in and passionate about a topic or training area can connect with and interact to learn from one another, share successful approaches and models, and improve and advance their related efforts and activities. An effective Community of Practice teaches problem solving, new knowledge and skills, best practices, standardization of practice, time saving, and mistake avoidance through informational, learning, and sharing programs. They often meet needs of the community that are not easily satisfied through traditional communication and training programs. Through a variety of interactive avenues – including blogs, discussion boards, resource repositories, live chats with colleagues and experts, videos, and tutorials, Community members can interact with their colleagues.
n 2008, Maher & Maher pioneered the concept of online peer-to-peer learning communities within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) by building the very first pseudo-community for the Transformational Forums. By the spring of 2009, we had refined our approach and collaborated with the thought-leaders in online communities we developed a successful community-building strategy, which enabled us to launch DOL’s first true online Communities of Practice for the Registered Apprenticeship initiative and the Reemployment initiatives. These two communities, and in particular the Registered Apprenticeship Community of Practice, have subsequently become a model after which other government agencies have begun to fashion their web presences. The Apprenticeship Community of Practice is a groundbreaking and incredibly valuable online education space, which utilizes Web 2.0 learning and networking tools to virtually brings together stakeholders across the nation in order to continue sharing resources, best practices, and to foster further collaboration efforts.
Upon its launch in March 2009, the Apprenticeship Community of Practice quickly became the “go-to” web site for all things Registered Apprenticeship. In October 2009, we launched the first of several major improvements to the CoP, which included a dramatic new design, improved functionality and navigation, enhanced opportunities for interaction, and fresh and timely content. From 2009 - present, Maher & Maher has assisted DOL in developing and managing over thirty interlinked online Communities of Practice (CoPs) for a variety of training assistance and field outreach projects, which have provided a robust and interactive space for these initiatives’ stakeholders to learn from one another, share successful approaches and models, and improve and advance their initiative’s efforts and activities.
Because the strength and usefulness of our CoPs comes from the contributions of their many members as well as the client’s own training staff, we also recognized the need to create a CoP manager role in order to keep content current, manage bloggers, moderate discussions, and to ensure the usefulness and proper posting of all user-contributed content. In 2009, upon the launch of our very first Communities, Maher & Maher pioneered the Community of Practice manager role, which we have subsequently trained our client’s staff to perform in order to better manage and engage with their own learners. Because of the active management CoP managers constantly working to engage users, our online Communities of Practice have become by far some of the most successful peer-to-peer communities in the entire federal workforce system.
In 2011, due to the growing number of online CoPs housed on DOL’s technical assistance website, Workforce3One, DOL hired Maher & Maher to perform the role of CoP Consultant. Since each CoP has its own departmental manager within DOL, the CoP Consultant works closely with the Office of Workforce Investment (OWI) to provide CoP managers with proactive support and guidance regarding the management, layout, functionality, usage trends, and overall effectiveness of their Community of Practice. The CoP Consultant is an Educational Technology professional, which includes training design expertise and facilitation skills, as well as intimate knowledge and experience of online Communities of Practice, Workforce3One and its daily management practices, modern web design & development, industry trends in training design, and effective strategies to engage online learners.
In December 2011, the CoP Consultant performed a full research and data-driven audit of the functionality and learning effectiveness of all 20+ ETA CoPs, which culminated in a comprehensive set of recommendations & innovative ideas about how to increase usability, rate of access, and effective delivery of ETA’s online training content. Based on this audit, in February 2012 and April 2012, the CoP Consultant worked with the OWI CoP Liaison to design and deliver two “CoP Bootcamp” instructor-led training courses for CoP managers, held at ETA. Each training course included a 2-hour core session with interactive learning activities, and two 1-hour hands-on workshops to target the managers’ specific skill needs. In addition, the CoP Consultant worked with the OWI CoP Liaison to design a “CoP Manager Desk Guide” with custom training materials including a full “how-to” tutorial on CoP use, best-practice management guides and content roadmap templates, metrics tracking guides and templates, and more. Both training sessions and the Desk Guide were very well-received by both CoP managers and OWI leadership. At present, the CoP Consultant is continuing to work closely with OWI to provide assistance and guidance to the CoP managers, so that each can continue to build a thriving and interactive workforce community.
Now Maher & Maher has expanded its clientele of online communities to include the Department of Education, State of Kentucky and Workforce Investment Fund Grantees. With each community, we implement best practices and the lessons we learned through our five years on community management.