Learning Communities In A Learning Region The Soft Infrastructure Of Cross Firm Learning Networks In Silicon Valley

The ability of firms, industries, and regions continually to translate information and knowledge into viable new products, services, and production processes in the face of constantly changing technology and market conditions is increasingly at the core of competitive success in the contemporary economy. Such economic learning is ultimately dependent on the ability of individ- uals to learn, and yet most of the literature in this area has focused on firms and organizational learning processes, and is only beginning to engage seriously with people’s learning processes. This paper explores the links between social learning processes and dynamics of innovation in Silicon Valley, arguing that cross-firm, occupationally based, `communities of practice’ provide a critical context for individuals to learn and maintain the competencies they need to be successful in the region’s dynamic but volatile economy. These cross-firm occupational learning communities in many cases are being built through the activities of formal professional associations, which are playing an increasingly important role in providing the organizational infrastructure to sustain these learning communities. Using a case study of an association of women in Internet design and develop- ment occupations, the author illustrates the value of such communities in supporting individual and collective learning processes. These findings suggest that economic development strategies could productively be focused on identifying, strengthening, and expanding access to such cross-firm occupational learning communities.