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Communities of practice

Presentation by Etienne Wenger at IPTS Validation Workshop, Sevill, 31st March 09

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Gráinne Conole
31 March 2009

Etienne Wenger – Communities of practice

Learning in practice – a social perspective, Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP) theory. Four aspects

  1. Community - Where do we belong?
  2. Identity – Who are we becoming?
  3. Meaning – What is our experience?
  4. Practice – What are we doing?

Who are our students and how do they know who they are and how they are placed in society?

Original communities of practice theory was developed before the emergence of the web

Meaning and meanfulness are a key component of the theory BUT its about developing meaning making in the real world, situated nature of learning is crucial

There is a real issue in terms of educational systems validating informal learning – there is a real tension between vertical vs. horizontal learning.  This tension is not resolvable – we need to live with it and understand the paradoxes and contradictions.

Complex inter-relationship between: space, time, locality, practice, boundary crossings between different practices. For example trainee doctor in the hospital in one practice, translation of this experience into ‘evidence for assessment purposes’ needs to then be ‘validated’ by auditors in another community of practice.

One of the trends in the perfect storm of web 2.0, communities in the 21st century which emerged around the time that CoP was developed was that organisations in the nineties were struggling with what it means to be a knowledge organisation?  Some looked to CoP theory as a means of trying to address this.

At this time knowledge management was 10% technology 90% people, but much of the discourse was on the technologies but it was harder to understand the human dimensions and what this meant in terms of connections, collective understanding, etc.

Core and boundary learning
What are the implications of a theory like this for professional educational?

Think of a body of knowledge as a curriculum whereas in reality it is a system of inter-connected practices, have a set of different practices which are producing the body of knowledge which define what ‘teaching’, ‘nursing’, ‘mathematics’ is.
Therefore ideally the education for a nurse or teacher would be to find your place in that landscape of practices, to find your identity.  If we think along these lines we will need to rethink our educational practice – we put too much emphasis on the mechanics of learning rather than on the development of meaning making.

A complex landscape – modes of identification
Process of identity formation
1. Imagination – how do we imagine ourselves?  Imagination as an image of the world such as it makes sense of who I am
2. Engagement -
3. Alignment – way you express your belonging to the community, what you do and don’t do as part of belonging to a community

How does learning exist as an experience of being in the world?
First storm was organisations (both businesses and governments) trying to create horizontal communities so that they can learn from each other etc
Second storm – emergence of the web and its potential impact, but this was very much aligned with the CoP practices – a Perfect storm – peer to peer interactions, development of practices etc. The web has changed the landscape for understanding community and identity

Trends shaping technology and community – a learning agenda

  • Fabric of connectivity – always on, virtual presence
  • Modes of engagement – generalised self-expression, mass collaboration, creative re-appropriation
  • Active medium – social computing, semantic web,, digital footprint
  • Reconfigured geographies – homesteading of the web, individualisation of orientation
  • Modulating polarities – togetherness and separation, interacting and publishing, individual and group
  • Dealing with multiplicity – competing services, multi-membership, thin connections
  • New communities – multi-space, multi-scale, dynamic boundaries, social learning spaces


Extra content

Embedded Content


Thomas Ryberg
10:38am 31 March 2009

Really great notes - thx for sharing!

Gráinne Conole
10:40am 31 March 2009

No worries! Helps keep me awake ;-) Very good discussion here and also great twitter stream!!! Btw if you edit your profile you can include your twitter name and it will show on your profile page.

Riina Vuorikari
2:18pm 31 March 2009

can you post the link to your guyses' tweet?

Gráinne Conole
2:34pm 31 March 2009

Hi Riina

 the workshop cloudscape also has the dynamic tweet embeded. If you go to and click follow you will be added to the list following the cloudscape

Muireann OKeeffe
5:08pm 22 September 2009

Mirandanet Communties of Practice seminar now streaming on please us #MMCOP please RT

Real-time results for #mmcop

Gráinne Conole
8:18pm 22 September 2009

Will do! sounds good!

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