Chapter 3, Learning

Wenger’s Communities of Practice

Some COP’s “exist over centuries – for example, communities of artisans who pass their craft from generation to generation. Some are short-lived, but intense enough to give rise to an inidgenous practice and to transform the identities of those involved”

As much as I at times undermine his style, Wenger has elan.

“what defines a community of practice in it’s temporal dimension is not justv a specific matter of a minimum amount of time. Rtaher it is a matter of sustaining enough mutual engagement in pursuing an enterprise together to share some significant learning”

This seesm a key idea to Connectiuvist practice. Communities can be bounbd together by all sorts of things, for different periods of time, but the binding together, if it is of sufficient intensity to cause significant laerning, works as a COP. The network learning model fits this well.

“communities of practice can be though of as shared histories of learning”.

The dual construction of histories:

History is a combination of reification and participation over time. It is the people, their participation, and the institutions and artifacts.

They are interdependent, and shape each other, but also separate. If ann individual participant quits, the Community, and it’s practices, remain. If the computer system fails, the participants will still strive to achieve their aims and goals.  The two things “move in lockstep. But they do not fuse”

In practice, for an online Connectivist COP, this means that a community, once working, may survive participant turnover, and may also, if turnover is sufficient, become unrecogniseable over time to participants who leave and return. Or they may remain familiar. The objects of the community, it’s reifications, and it’s participant’s alter and change, but do not determine each other.

Continuity and discontinuity.

We become invested in bothe participation and reification over time. It is not easy to change ones id in a COP – we become invested in each other, in what we do, and in our shared history.

Reifications are often persistent through time, even if they are incorrect, or not best parctice. The qwerty keyboard, the US attachtment to Imperial measurements.

Reifications are also often revolutionised. File cabinets to computers. Computers as passive receptors of data, to actve data gatherers and data crunchers that automate some prcesses.

The politics of participation and reification:

“They offer two kinds of lever available for attempts to shape the future – to maintain the status quo or conversely to redirect the practice

1) You can seek, cultivate, or avoid specific relationships with specific people.

2) You can produce or promote specific artefacts to focus future negotiation of meaning”

and of the politics of participation, he gives these examples

” influience, personal authority, nepotism, rampant discrimination, charisma, trust, friendship, ambition”

what could I add here, in terms of online engagement? confirmed senses of superiority, clique attachment, acceptance, and power maintainance, bias confirmation, submission displays, jargon or lingo useage, usefulness, utility or usefulness granted or denied,

of the politics of reification he offers these examples

“legislation, policies, institutionally defined authority, expositions, argumentative demonstrations (?), statistics, contracts, plans, designs” and here I’d also add ideas of best practice, promotion and assessment structures, payment reward systems, commission based employment,  and, in online contexts, rules of engagement (eg forum stickies),

Control over practice usually involves expertise at both forms – as both forms are interdependent, and can adapt each other. We can use personal relationships top adapt company policy, we can use automated quantitative assessment to undermine personal bias in promotion assessments.

We need the politics of practice, because, without it, reification  has no effect – it needs to be enacted, worked with, used etc, but participation needs reification, as it provides the focus around which we negotiate and participate.

Histories of Learning:

Three points to make here

1. Practuce is not stable, incules continuity and discontinuity

2. Learing in pract involves the three dimensions from ch2 (joing enter, mutual enga, shared rep)

3. Practice emerges by being available to change, and rsilient.

Continuities and discontinuities

Even lomng established practices have innovation, tuning  and change at the workface at their heart.

The world changes, and so practices must, and do, too.

Learning in Practice:

Peiple learn continually on their jobs. They may reserve the verb for traineees, but they also value, and talk about it as part of their own work practice. Often, they may not talk about learning as part of their practice because both things are so closely inbterwoven – aspects of their work contain, necessitate, or offer opportunities for learning as a part and function of thge work.

“learing in practice includes the following processes for the communities involved”

Evolving forms of mutual engagement – working out how to engage, what helps and hinders it, who is who, and what their knowledges and competencues are, who gets along with who”

Understanding and tuning their enterprise:” defining the enterprise and reconciling differing interpretations, aligning engagement with it, learning to become and hold others accountable

“Developing their repertoire, styles and discourses:” renegotiating meaning, prod/adopting tools and artifacts, changing or inventing terms, routines, invoking old/new stories and events.


This learning is constant, omnipresent, and inseparable from practice. It is imprtant, and is not just cognitive learning, but the formation of an identity. “We create ways of participating”

Wenger is eloquent, rhetorically persuasive, and passionate. What he’s not is someone who provides data, examples, meaningful justification. This is theory as narrative. He’s telling a story, and not, really. constructing an argument. Or even a hypothesis. Good hypotheses are testable, and clear.

Emergent structure:

“Learning is the engine of practice, and practice is the history of that learning”

COP#s can be persistent across time, or not, with unclear beginnings and ends, they can outlast the tasks that created them. Practice is produced through negotiated meaning – it’s not an object outside of practice – and it’s a continuous exploration, always open ti change, reinterpretation, or readaptation.  It is changeable and rsilient. It is neither stable nor unstable, inherentlyu, though it can be either.


Generational Discontinuities:

People move in and out, join and leave, and practices often have cycles, or rhythms. In long lived practices, new generations join, and, if the trickle is slow enough, these can be integrated, before contributing and changing it themselves.

Generational Encounters:

Old timers introducing newcomers to the prqctice is often key, and unrecognised. He uses the term ” legitimate peripheral participation” to describe aspects pof this, and talk about ways to open the practice to newcomers


“Peripherality provides an approximation of full participation” but that typically lessens risk. Mentoring, close supervision, lessened production schedules. And to be useful it must provide access to all three aspects of practice,  community mutual engagement, negotiation of the enterprise, and to repertoire in use. Teachers can be important, but it is by their community membership that they can play their roles.

Legitimation…”In order to be on an inbound trajectory newcomers must be granted enough legitimacy to be treated as potential members. Community rejection creates difficulty in learning. This can bve by birth, sponsorhip, fear, all sorts of ways. It;s especially important for newcomers as they are likely to fall short of competent engagement initially. Being newcomers.


Generational meetings and engagements e not, of course, necessarily conflict free.



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