Creating, Learning, & Unlearning

Recently, I have been working on research investigating the use of Knowledge Management Systems (KMS) among communities of practice (COP), particularly among academic research teams. This is especially practical for me, as I intend to spend my career working in interdisciplinary teams to create real solutions that address  health disparities in rural areas. The most important outcomes from these types of COP is creating pragmatic knowledge, innovation, and what we may learn from team successes and failures. I’m sure my readers may reflect on past projects as I discuss some challenges for working with and learning from research teams.

unlearningThere are many ways that COP may be defined. Amin and Roberts (2008) take issue with how researchers have conceptualized COP, saying that “the use of the term (COP) has become imprecise, having strayed far from the original definition of COPs as relatively stable communities of face-to-face interaction between members working in close proximity to one another, in which identity formation through participation and the negotiation of meaning are central to learning and knowledge generation”(p. 355). In my research, I use  Hara’s (2009) definition that defines COP as “collaborative, informal networks that support professional practitioners in their efforts to develop shared understandings and engage in work-relevant knowledge building” (p. 3). Similar to Hara (2009), Amin and Roberts (2008) focus on innovation and the creation of knowledge. Additionally, they detail the knowledge acquisition, nature of social interaction, innovation, and organizational dynamic of professional knowing in action. These dimensions are inextricably linked and vital to the way we work to acquire, create, and disseminate knowledge to interested publics. That said, what happens when a project is complete? Our tacit and explicit knowledge carries with us to the next task, project, team, and so forth. Perhaps what we learn from our experiences in COP is the most significant element of our work.

Mary recently discussed Brown and Duguid’s (1991) explication of working and learning through collaboration. These researchers say that learning cannot be separated from our work because “individual learning is inseparable from collective learning” (p. 46). Moreover, Amin and Roberts (2008) maintain that practice-based innovation and learning have considerable potential. Although these assertions make sense, I have experience working in groups where individuals have low expectations of what they may learn from the project. Often, there may be team members who rely on their own tacit or explicit knowledge, refusing to learn from others because of their prior personal or institutional experiences. For example, from a health communication perspective, health care providers may be reticent to engage with communication experts if they believe there is nothing to be learned from them.

yoda unlearnThe reticence for collaboration among individuals involved in COP may lend to Huber’s (1991) of unlearning, which Mary  recently discussed. If we are unable to shift from individual thinking based on prior collective knowledge and practices, how may we be active, productive members of academic research COP? Huber (1991) offers many avenues for organizational learning, some of which may support teams that run into issues with uncollaborative members. One way to facilitate learning among COP is through experimentation. In the context of academic research teams, this may take the form of program evaluation. If we are able to retrospectively see challenges and failures, may we learn from this? Is it possible to see the value of others to the extent that we desire to unlearn? If there are clear gaps in the experience-based learning curves, how do we respond as individuals? How do we respond collectively?


Amin, A., & Roberts, J. (2008). Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice. Research Policy, 37(2), 353–369. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2007.11.003

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1), 40-57. doi:10.1287/orsc.2.1.40

Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal
knowledge sharing in the work place. Information Science and Knowledge Management
(Vol. 13). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Huber, G. P. (1991). Organizational learning: The contributing processes and the literatures. Organization Science, 2(1), 88-115.


5 thoughts on “Creating, Learning, & Unlearning

  1. The socialization aspect of ‘unlearning’ is important and interesting — we can think of this aspect as a contagious disease (and Huber kind of hints at this). This also suggests that while the outcome may at times be desired, unlearning (curing the disease) is somewhat costly because it involves changing behavior. This connection to behavior is also important and illustrates, even more so, its relationship to tacit knowledge.

  2. First off, I love this image you chose. Secondly, about the unlearning, I’ve found that one of the only ways to get someone to be willing to learn or unlearn something, is to prove to them why it’s important to them. Why is this new information or way important enough for them to spend their time doing it. What is the cost and the reward for doing so and NOT doing so. That’s just from my experience.

  3. Pingback: A Final Perspective on Organizational Knowledge – rhmaxsonlis658

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