PERCEPTIONS WITHIN A VIRTUAL COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE: A Q-METHOD STUDY
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Incorporating people's values and beliefs into virtual communities is an important component of sustainable communities of practice. The purpose of this study is to better understand the beliefs and perspectives of those virtual community participants who engage in community development in a national network of practitioners. Q-Method, a mixed-methods research design, was utilized to study the subjective opinions of participants within the virtual community of practice. Q-Method was used to identify perspectives on sustainable management and development of a virtual community of practice established by the Community Learning Exchange. Initial interviews, an online questionnaire and literature reviews were conducted to build a concourse of statements. Then, thirty-one participants from the virtual community completed online sorts of the Q-Study cards according to their own beliefs and subjective opinions about virtual communities of practice. Post-sort interviews were also conducted to elicit explanations about participant sorts. The Q-Sorts were factor analyzed to reveal statistical correlations among the participants. Data analysis indicated four statistically significant factors. Data also emerged as to why these participants choose to engage online (or not) in this particular virtual community of practice. Finally, a conceptual framework was used to examine participants’ beliefs about engagement within a virtual community. The findings of this study generate insights into virtual communities of practice and provide researchers, policy makers, and practitioners information about this rapidly expanding field. The study demonstrates the value of Q-Method in characterizing the views of virtual community participants toward online engagement and accommodating these views and beliefs in a virtual community of practice.