Tuesday, February 16, 2010

LaaN vs. Situated Learning

Situated learning is a model of learning first introduced by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in 1991. This model proposes that knowing and learning involve a process of engagement in a community of practice (CoP). As Lave & Wenger (1991) write: "Knowing is inherent in the growth and transformation of identities and it is located in relations among practitioners, their practice, the artifacts of that practice, and the social organization . . . of communities of practice" (p. 122). Rather than looking to learning as the acquisition of certain forms of knowledge, Lave & Wenger (1991) explore the participation metaphor of learning in which learning is matter of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) within a CoP. According to Lave and Wenger, in a CoP, a newcomer learns from old-timers by being allowed to participate in certain tasks that relate to the practice of the community. Over time the newcomer moves from peripheral to full participation.

Wenger (1998) revises his earlier work (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and offers a social account of learning through the negotiation of meaning and identity formation within CoPs. While Wenger does not ignore legitimacy and peripherality, it is participation that he extracts as being crucial to the revised notion of a CoP showing it to be the key constituent in the processes of the negotiation of meaning. According to Wenger (1998), participation refers to "a process of taking part and also to the relations with others that reflect this process. It suggests both action and connection" (p. 55). Wenger stresses that learning is social participation. He further explains that any CoP will then produce artifacts, which reify some aspect of its practice, and refers to this process of giving form to the experience as reification.

Within LaaN, the notion of legitimate peripheral participation, that is the process by which newcomers become included in CoP, is absent. In LaaN, role models are not strictly defined. There is no distinction between "newcomers, novices, or peripheral participants" and "old-timers or masters". Every participant is equally treated as a knowledge networker. Unlike CoPs which are characterized by a single movement from the periphery to the center, in a knowledge ecology, the center does not hold and the movements occur in unpredictable directions.

Moreover, in Wenger’s social theory of learning, the emphasis is on the CoP. As Wenger (1998) writes in the introduction of his book:

Communities of Practice presents a theory a learning that starts with this assumption: engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are. The primary unit of analysis is neither the individual nor social institutions but rather the informal "communities of practice" that people form as they pursue shared enterprises over time.

In LaaN, by contrast, the primary focus is on the individual learner and her PKN. Knowledge development in LaaN is driven by the learning demands of the learner, rather than the community in which she belongs. In contrast to Wenger’s learning theory, where learning, for an individual, is "an issue of engaging in and con- tributing to the practices of their communities" (p. 7), LaaN views learning, for an individual, as an issue of continuously building, maintaining, extending, and restructuring her PKN.

Furthermore, the social landscape is quite different within LaaN. As discussed in an earlier post, a strong distinction can be made between closed, bounded, structured, and hierarchical CoPs on the one hand and open, distributed, diverse, emergent, and self-controlled knowledge ecologies on the other hand.


- Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Partici- pation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

- Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Related Posts:

- Knowledge Ecology vs. CoP

- LaaN vs. Activity Theory

- LaaN vs. Social Constructivism

- LaaN Revisited

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