Emotions and Knowledge on Practice Sharing: Dynamics of Exchanges in Virtual Communities of Practice for Professionals

Empirical studies
By Magali Prost, Béatrice Cahour, Françoise Détienne

Internet forums have become an issue of some importance in recent years. Studies are centered on either the socio-emotional or the epistemic aspect of exchanges between participants. The article focuses on exchanges in virtual communities of practice for professionals who could investigate those virtual spaces to improve their practice and sharing difficulties. The main objective of this study was to explore links between knowledge and emotions sharing during exchanges on professionals forums. Thirteen threads from two educator’s forums were analyzed based on Bales’ coding scheme (1950). Descriptive analyses are used to highlight the nature and the proportion of epistemic and socio-emotional interactions, pattern of sequence interaction and interactional dynamics. The results point the presence in each thread of epistemic interactions with and without emotions and socio-emotional interactions. Epistemic interactions without emotions are predominant in exchanges and are used to propose a solution, to share rules or procedures, or to evaluate the initiator situation. To show their knowledge of problematic situation, participants associate a negative emotional experience. Socio-emotional interactions are found in a quarter of messages and are composed of explicit emotional support. A pattern of sequence interaction was observed between initiator and reactant of the order of similarity in a negative emotional experience. This pattern traduces empathy, typical phenomenon of virtual support communities (Pfeil & Zaphiris, 2007). However, participants in our study match their similar emotional experience with feedback on solutions found to solve their problem. Finally, three interactional dynamics were identified: (a) constant evolving of interactions with a predominance of sharing knowledge without emotion (three threads), (b) dominance of epistemic interactions without emotion and interleaving of the three types of interaction (five threads) and (c) interleaving the three types of interactions throughout the exchanges (four threads). Results are discussed in relation to empathy in virtual communities and to difficult emotional situations in communities of practice for professionals.


  • virtual communities of practice
  • sharing experiences
  • knowledge
  • emotions
  • professional difficulties
  • interactional dynamics
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