Intro: A social theory of Learning

From Communities of Practice, Wenger.

Wenger argues learning and knowledge are

  • Social (we are social beings, and the social aspect is central t learning
  • Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to valued enterprises
  • Knowing is a function of pursuing those enterprises, and engaging with the world
  • Meaning is ultimately what we produce ” our ability to experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful”.

I do question the idea of value. What is it. Who holds it. What if pursuits that make demonstrably incorrect claims about the world are valued by particular communities ( homeopathy, social darwinism, fundamentalist cosmology, etc etc), or how about otaku or outsider communities who value…manga lore, klingon, horse brass etc etc.

Wenger talks about identity creation as a function of community participation (and an aspect of the social engagement of learning, andf social context, I presume, of knowledge) – “Participation in a playground clique, or a work team, for instance, is both a kind of action and a form of belonging”.

He categorises the ideas of learning and knowing thus

  • Meaning: learning as experience, “a way of talking about out (changing) ability….to experience our life and the world as meaningful. This seems a little vague…but it is only the intro.
  • Practice: learning as doing, “a way of talking about the shared historical and social resources, frameworks, and perspectives that can sustain mutual engagement in action.
  • Community: learning as belonging – is this related to ideas of crowd/group identity/ de-individuation? – “a way of talking about the social configurations in which our enterprises are defined as worth pursuing and our participation is recognizable as competence”
  • Identity: learning as becoming – “a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities.”

Wenger states that he makes assumptions about learning. But he hasn’t yet justified those assumptions.

Communities of practice are everywhere. Families have shared rituals, practices artefacts etc, institutions, groups of work colleagues.  We find ways in which to live and function with one another. To survive, to thrive, to have fun, to get the job done.

Ham radio hobbyists connect, alcoholics band together in groups in recovery, virtual communities form.


“Although the term may be new, the experience is not”

So, communities of practice are as old as social humans. Online communities are a contemporary iteration of a characteristically human experience, and one that seems to be the semiology we swim in. The medium may change but the message transacted remains the same?


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