Communities of practice as social learning systems

Wenger revisits in 2009 the theory of Communities of Practice he had introduced in the late 80’s/ early 90’s together with Jean Lave. This paper is so interesting I didn’t know what to highlight first. He repitulates the initial principles and then attempts to answer briefly the opposing arguments as posed by critisism over the years.

The theory of CoP sees learning as:

  1. the production of social structure
  2. the production of identity

Wenger supports the notion that learning is a claim for competence, an activity that holds us accountable for something in the community, as an action that provides us with an identity.

Engagement in social contexts involves a dual process of meaning making. On the one hand, we engage directly in activities, conversations, reflections, and other forms of personal participation in social life. On the other hand, we produce physical and conceptual artifacts—words, tools, concepts, methods, stories, documents, links to resources, and other forms of reification—that reflect our shared experience and around which we organize our participation.

Naturally members of these communities share a competence that includes:

  • Understanding what matters, what the enterprise of the community is, and how it givesrise to a perspective on the world
  • Being able (and allowed) to engage productively with others in the community
  • Using appropriately the repertoire of resources that the community has accumulated through its history of learning.

The processes and the challenges of learning in a complexifying world become clearer if we conceptualize knowledgeability as a process of modulating identification across multiple locations of accountability.

Special mention is owed to his phrase “landscapes of practice” as in the structuring of systems:

As learning gives rise to a multiplicity of interrelated practices, it shapes the human world as a complex landscape of practices. Each community is engaged in the production of its own practice—in relation to the whole system, of course, but also through its own local negotiation of meaning. This process is therefore inherently diverse. The bounded character of the production of practice makes social systems dynamic and unpredictable. Such a perspective leads to a suspicion of uniformity in social systems. (…)  For instance, the body of knowledge of a profession is not merely a curriculum. It is a whole landscape of practices—involved not only in practicing the profession, but also in research, teaching, management, regulation, professional associations, and many other contexts, including contexts in which the clients of the practice develop their own views (e.g., patients communities in medicine). The composition of such a landscape is dynamic as communities emerge, merge, split, compete, complement each other, and disappear. And the boundaries between the practices involved are not necessarily peaceful or collaborative.

Wenger sees three different modes of entanglement with the landscapes of practice. One is Engagement, the other is Imagination and the last is Alignment. Our identity reflects the landscape in which we live and is a Trajectory, a Nexus of Multimembership and Multi-Scale.

The whole article is available here.

For more on Communities of Practice click here

Wenger, E., 2010, ‘Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept’, In Blackmore, C. (Editor) Social Learning Systems and communities of practice. Springer Verlag and the Open University.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Communities of practice as social learning systems

  1. Pingback: ADDIE, OCL, CBL, CP, AD Teaching Methodologies | connecting data to information to knowldge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s