Over the past several years, I've heard many people in the Learning and Development industry use jargon and technology terms in ways that aren't quite correct. At the very least this can cause momentary confusion, but at its worst it can seriously mislead, waste time, and even reflect badly on the person or organization employing the mistaken usage.
One term that I think is often used quite loosely, and at times incorrectly, is the concept of Community of Practice (CoP). Wikipedia puts it simply and succinctly: a CoP is a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. You can have many CoPs within an organization -- say the instructional designers, or the project managers, or the loan officers, or the web developers. Traditionally, they might meet regularly to share ideas or discuss issues of common concern, or they might have an email group list for the same purpose. And of course there are broader CoPs in society that span across workplaces. A recent column in Chief Learning Officer magazine by Jay Cross, "The Case for Communities of Practice," I think does a very good job of giving examples and capturing the essence of CoPs.
On the other hand, the mistaken usage of "community of practice" that I see most often is to imply that it is some sort of new technology, one of the many so-called "Web 2.0" or "social learning" technologies, on the same level as say wikis, blogs, forums, and so on. This confuses things, because a "community of practice" is not a technology per se, but a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. Such a group can be better enabled by the use of some of the latest social technologies. For instance, a CoP can have a shared wiki as an organic knowledge base, use a forum for asking questions and learning from each others' responses, and a group blog or micromessaging platform for sharing best practices, lessons learned, and so on. Typically, a CoP in an organization that is technology-enabled in this way might use several of these or other technologies -- but the CoP itself is not a kind of technology as such. Supporting the CoP, this group of people, is rather one of many strong use-cases for the social technologies in question.
A few of the technology terms I just mentioned also often get misused in our industry. Simply put, a wiki is a type of website, or at the very least a set of web pages at a broader website, where people can easily edit, add, or delete content, track changes over time, and so on. Individual pages in the wiki are just that: "wiki pages." Unfortunately, sometimes people confuse the overall wiki with the individual pages in a wiki, and say things like "Create a wiki for that topic" when what they mean is "Create a page in our [existing] wiki for that topic" -- and there is a big difference in terms of what you are asking the person to do!
I find a similar issue arises for blogs. A blog is website or section of a website where one or more authors can write essays that typically then get displayed in reverse chronological order (newest at the top), with the ability for readers to add comments to each essay. A blog is composed of blog postings, the individual entries or essays that make up the blog. This is fairly straightforward, and yet at times, I hear people confusingly say "You should write a blog about that," when what they mean is either "You should blog about that" (using "blog" as a verb) or "You should write a blog posting about that." Again, a big difference in what the person is asking -- do they want an entirely new blog to be created, or just a single posting at an existing blog?
A third technology term that often gets misused is podcast. Here, the problem arises when people provide standalone audio files available for download, perhaps even in the most common format used in podcasting (MP3), and then for marketing or other reasons, want to call what they have created a "podcast." Unfortunately, a true podcast is more than just a set of downloadable audio files: it is a series of such files that a person can subscribe to, and therefore get updates pushed to them as they become available. This is what provides the "cast" in "podcast" -- the ability to subscribe to the content in the ongoing series.
Are all of these subtle differences? Am I the only one who gets confused at some of these word usage cases? If so, then perhaps I'm becoming a cranky old man well before my biological clock would suggest I should. If not, then I hope this blog posting was a helpful one!