Guides What is a Community of Practice?

What is a Community of Practice?

Last updatedJune 12, 2024
AuthorKai Forsyth

Have you ever bonded with a group of people over a shared passion, skill, or profession? Whether it’s a hobby like gardening, a field like data science, or a business function like marketing, coming together with others to learn, share knowledge, and support each other’s growth is incredibly powerful. That’s the essence of a community of practice.

A community of practice is a group of people who share a common interest, passion, craft, or profession. They regularly interact to learn from each other, collaborate, and evolve their shared domain of expertise. Unlike communities of interest, which form around shared passions or hobbies, or communities of place, which are defined by geographic location, a community of practice is based around the skills shared by a group of practitioners.

The concept was coined by cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the early 1990s, but the phenomenon itself is timeless. From ancient artisan guilds to modern online forums, communities of practice have always been a key way we humans share knowledge and innovate.

Purpose of a Community of Practice

The main goal of a community of practice is typically collective learning and knowledge sharing. Members come together to deepen their understanding, skills, and expertise in their common domain. They learn from each other’s experiences, challenge each other’s ideas, and collaborate to create new knowledge and solutions.

But a community of practice is more than just a study group or professional association. It’s a living, evolving community that shapes its members’ identities and ways of being in the world. Through participation, members cultivate a shared sense of purpose, values, and approaches. They develop a common language, tools, and frameworks. In short, the community becomes a key part of who they are and how they practice their craft.

Examples of Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are everywhere once you start looking. Some emerge organically, while others are intentionally cultivated within organizations. Some meet in person, others are entirely virtual. Here are a few examples:

Professional communities

These are communities formed around a specific profession, where practitioners can share knowledge, skills, and best practices.

  • A group of data scientists within a company who get together weekly to share tips, troubleshoot code, and discuss industry trends
  • An online forum for knitwear designers to trade pattern ideas, techniques, and business advice

Customer communities

These are communities of customers or users of a particular product or service, where they can connect with each other and the brand.

  • A user group for a specific software product where members share tips, templates, and workarounds
  • An online forum for owners of a particular brand of camera to share photos, techniques, and gear recommendations

Association communities

These are communities within professional or trade associations, which bring together people in a particular industry or with shared interests.

  • A national professional association for project managers that offers certifications, conferences, and local chapters
  • An industry trade association that lobbies for favorable policies and provides member resources like research and training

Characteristics of a Community of Practice

While communities of practice come in many flavors, they share some common characteristics:

Domain: A Community of Practice is defined by a shared domain of interest, whether it’s a profession, skill, topic, or challenge. This shared focus creates a sense of identity and commitment to the group.

Practice: Members are practitioners, not just fans or enthusiasts. They develop and apply practical knowledge, tools, and approaches. Through the community, they evolve their practice over time.

Voluntary participation: Members choose to participate because they find value in it, not because it’s required. Intrinsic motivation and passion drive engagement.

Collective learning: The community is a vehicle for ongoing learning and growth, not just a repository of existing knowledge. Members actively build on each other’s insights and experiences.


A community of practice is a group united by a shared domain who collectively learn, grow, and evolve their expertise through ongoing interaction. By coming together regularly to share knowledge, troubleshoot challenges, and explore new ideas, members deepen their skills while forging a sense of shared identity and purpose. The power of communities of practice lies in their ability to harness the wisdom of the group. No one member has all the answers, but together they can innovate and excel in ways they never could alone.

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