Practice, theory and communities

For many people, online communities are a new experience (involvement) requiring the development of additional personal experience (knowledge) as well as new practices (ways of doing things) and possibly suitable theories (explanations that help understand what is happening). Even for the growing number of people who are familiar with online communities, the experience is continually changing, as technology and ways of doing things evolve and develop. Newness and unfamiliarity can be unsettling. They can be a source of stress and even anxiety, especially in complex, fast-changing situations. Neither stress nor anxiety are conducive to learning or to the trust needed for communities to function well. Other people’s practices (ways of doing things) or experience (personal knowledge accumulated about the situation) can be a source of knowledge for those who do not have enough experience in the new context and  are struggling to grasp their new situation. Such less formal knowledge is often more readily assimilated than theory or guide books. As a consequence, communities have to develop easy, accessible ways of exchanging experience between members in addition to means of identifying who has the knowledge that is needed. Note that experience, as a form of knowledge, will invariably not be expressed in the same way as things learnt from books in places of learning. A text book might say: Consult Brown’s book on botany to find more details of plant growth. Whereas Tom might write on Facebook: I was reading a book by Brown about plants and was amazed to learn that ….

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See also Practice and Theory.

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