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Depth vs. Breadth: How Digital Communities of Practice Get the Balance Right

By Carolyn Ruocco

Last week on the blog article (Not All Enterprise Learning Platforms Are Created Equal), Tim talked about the differences between Digital Communities of Practice (DCPs) and Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs). When I read his piece, the concept that felt most relevant to me was “breadth vs. depth.” As a person who dreads making decisions about anything other than proper sentence structure, a plethora of options (like where to go to dinner out of all the restaurants in DC, what to watch on Netflix, or even what book to take out—for free!–at the library) is not something I enjoy. I’d much rather make a decision based on my typical preferences, like “it’s a Friends rerun kind of night” than be faced (literally) with the reality that I could watch about 13 other equally entertaining shows. Even after pressing play, I often wonder if I’ve made the right choice, and can’t fully focus on Ross’ latest freakout. And yes, I’m well aware that these aren’t real problems.

But they can become real problems at work, especially when we are trying to grow in our fields—often by using LXPs (like Degreed). When we are faced with LXPs, we are expected to:

(1) Know what we want or need to learn
(2) Genuinely want to learn for learning’s sake

I don’t think very many of us can honestly meet either of the above requirements on a daily basis, if ever. When our learning platforms mimic “choose your own adventure” novels, they may work for deeply inspired, independent explorers who can envision their paths without guidance. But that doesn’t really help the rest of us, who want to improve and deepen our specific skill sets while still getting our jobs done. Many of us don’t even know what we don’t know, and we also don’t know what everyone else knows. LXPs can’t, by design, help us figure it out.

And when we’re faced with an overwhelming number of learning options while we’re also trying to do our jobs, we aren’t typically inspired to want to learn at all. If LXPs are asking us to learn for the sake of learning, but not offering us communities of people from whom we can learn, we’re not likely to dive into them. Perhaps that’s why many (e-learning platforms don’t publish course completion rates)

The bottom line is that it's more important to know what we need to learn, and learn it well, than to be overwhelmed with seemingly unlimited options.

Enter DCPs. There, we are learning from each other and working collaboratively, often working toward a specific goal or solving a genuine problem. DCPs can help us identify what we don’t know and help us fill in those skill gaps. And we aren’t just getting exposed to the right content. We’re also working with the right people—people whose career paths are both similar and different to ours, whose levels of expertise vary, and, most importantly, whose knowledge and critical thinking skills can help us improve our own. Because we are collaborating and bouncing ideas off one another, we are naturally more inclined to engage with the content than if we were consuming it on an endless path, alone.

In DCPs, while we’ve chosen our adventure and we have the support of others while we’re on it, we aren’t fully closed off to new opportunities either. We can be writers who choose to learn about 21st century management practices or, just as easily, management consultants who focus on honing our writing skills. DCPs give us opportunities to step outside of our traditional wheelhouses. And, when we’re part of a DCP, we can rest assured that the paths we choose will take us deeper into work that matters, not into a maze of learning content with no end in sight.

Want to create exceptional learning experiences in your organization? Try Nomadic today!

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