Communities of practice

sustained learning partnerships





Regime of competence




What they are

Communities of practice are sustained learning partnerships among people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Communities of practice can be formed to support social learning in any shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

How they contribute to social learning capability

Communities of practice are the learning keepers of the practices associated with specific areas. They cultivate a specialized capability by developing a regime of competence in their domain. They contribute to social learning capability to the extent that they keep their practice alive, keep pushing their capability, and involve newcomers. They also contribute when they connect their own practice to other relevant practices, projects where their practice is required, and various stakeholders across the social landscape. They detract from social learning capability when they become stale, defensive, or siloed.

Communities of practice are the topic we have been working on the longest and it is exciting now to consider their role in the context of a broader social learning theory focused on social learning capability more generally.

More on communities of practice

Since we have been working on communities of practice the longest, we have a lot of resources about them.

This short essay gives an introduction to the concept of communities of practice. It describes briefly what they are, how they function, and where they have been used. It also debunks some of the myths associated with communities of practice.


This new guidebook captures the practical experience of the authors with communities of practice. It includes chapters on setting the organizational context, cultivating communities of practice, facilitating meetings and social learning activities, using technology, and articulating the value created. 

Every year, we organize workshops on cultivating communities of practice for people who do this within and across organizations. 

Our page on FAQs has several sections on communities of practice.

Older books

Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge

Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity

Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation