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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Students Helping Students [video]

A nice video by Michael Wesch and his students. Read more about the video here. Thanks Nancy for sharing this.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Knowledge Ecology vs. CoP

This post will endeavor to compare and contrast knowledge ecologies and communities of practice (CoPs) as discussed by Etienne Wenger in his book "Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity".

Knowledge Ecology

A knowledge ecology is based on the concept of personal knowledge networks (PKNs), loosely joined, and can be understood as a complex, knowledge intensive landscape that emerges from the bottom-up connection of PKNs.

Communities of Practice (CoPs)

Wenger (1998) discusses three dimensions of a CoP (p. 73):

1. How it functions (community): A mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.

2. What it is about (domain): A joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.

3. What capability it has produced (practice): The shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artifacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.

Knowledge Ecologies vs. CoPs

A knowledge ecology differs from a CoP on all the three dimensions mentioned above.

According to Wenger, "the first characteristic of practice as the source of coherence of a community is the mutual engagement of participants" (p. 73). It is mutual engagement that binds members of a CoP together as a social entity and enables them to define themselves as members of the CoP. Unlike a CoP, a knowledge ecology is a social entity which has no clear boundaries and membership criteria. It involves an emergent network of people not so tightly bound as a CoP. A knowledge ecology is driven by independence and autonomy rather than membership, mutual engagement, and belonging to a community. Rather than being forced to interact intensely with other members of a CoP, within a knowledge ecology, everyone can rely on her PKN. Often, people turn to their personal relations in order to learn and get their work done, rather than trying to get access to a well established community of mutual engagement. Wenger further stresses that the kind of coherence that transforms mutual engagement into a CoP requires work and asserts that "the work of "community maintenance" is thus an intrinsic part of any practice" (p. 74). In a knowledge ecology, however, people focus on forming and maintaining their PKNs and sustaining dense relations with nodes in their PKNs rather than maintaining the CoP to which they belong.

Wenger states that "the second characteristic of practice as a source of community coherence is the negotiation of a joint enterprise" (p. 77). According to Wenger, a CoP involves organizing around some particular area of knowledge (i.e. a shared domain of interest) that gives members a sense of joint enterprise and shared identity. Membership in a CoP implies a commitment to the domain and a continuous negotiation of a joint enterprise. A CoP is thus a homogeneous social entity consisting of members with a joint enterprise and a shared domain of interest. Unlike CoPs, knowledge ecologies are not bound by a shared practice, a joint enterprise, or an overarching domain. They are open, flexible, heterogeneous, and multi- disciplinary social entities. In a knowledge ecology, people continuously create their PKNs which shape their identity and knowledge home, rather than create a shared identity through engaging in and contributing to the practices of a CoP. Wenger further notes that "communities of practice are not self-contained entities. They develop in larger contexts - historical, social, cultural, and institutional - with specific resources and constraints" (p. 79). Consequently, the practice of a community is profoundly shaped by conditions outside the control of its members due to external efforts to maintain influence and control over the practice. In contrast to CoPs, knowledge ecologies are not positioned within a broader system and are not bound to the control of any external force. They emerge naturally without strong predetermined rules or external authority. Knowledge ecologies are thus self-controlled and self-contained entities.

Wenger notes that "the third characteristic of practice as a source of community coherence is the development of a shared repertoire ... The repertoire of a community of practice includes routines, words, tools, ways of doing things, stories, gestures, symbols, genres, actions, or concepts that the community has produced or adopted in the course of its existence, and which have become part of its practice. The repertoire combines both reificative and participative aspects" (pp. 82-83). In contrast to CoPs, knowledge ecologies lack a shared repertoire and are thus open and distributed knowledge domains. The knowledge resources are distributed over different PKNs within a knowledge ecology. Unlike participation in a CoP, where the result is the development of a community’s set of shared resources and practices, the result of participation in a knowledge ecology is a restructuring of one’s PKN, that is, a reframing of one’s theories-in-use (conceptual/internal level) and an extension of one’s external network with new knowledge nodes (external level).


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

Monday, February 08, 2010

How To Write An Awesome Blog Post [Slides]

Nice tips on how to write good blog posts by Arun Basil Lal.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

New Technology Supporting Informal Learning

A nice paper by Stephen Downes on "New Technology Supporting Informal Learning".

Stephen writes:
we often talk about games, simulations and other events in learning, but these technologies support only episodic learning. Equally important are those technologies that provide a context for these learning episodes, an environment where students interact and converse among themselves.
A must read for everyone interested in network learning.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Google Chrome OS Tablet Concept [Video]

A video of Google's Chrome OS tablet UI concept. More videos are available here. Will a Google Tablet with a cloud-based OS win the tablet war against Apple's iPad? Is Chrome OS the future of mobile cloud computing and mobile augmented reality apps?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

iPad vs. Rock

Monday, February 01, 2010

My Response to Nancy White on CoPs

Here is my answer to Nancy White, who commented on an earlier post "Are Communities of Practice Dead?". Nancy Wrote:

I point to a CoP that continues to give me great value, to which I contribute and which resists cooption and top down control.


I live in a number of CoPs that are central to both my learning and my livihood. None of them are within a corporation. None of them are defined by or limited to a technological platform.

Their forms are diverse, from bounded/closed and closely defined to very distributed, networked and almost impossible to point to in a succinct matter.

But in the end, to me, they are alive and well and MATTER!

I guess it all depends on where you sit, what you see.

This was my brief answer:

I'll start with your last sentence "it all depends on where you sit, what you see". That's exactly the point. It's all about YOU. You're not at the intersection of different CoPs, but at the center of your PKN. You're not a member in CoPs, but selected learners/knowledge workers are nodes in your PKN. As a learner/knowledge worker, what you're doing all the time is not to contribute to the practices of CoPs as a member, but to try to sustain and widen the circle of your PKN to embrace new knowledge nodes that you believe can help you learn/work. Your PKN, and not the CoP, is your knowledge home. Many CoPs die mainly because they are none's priority. PKNs persist because it's everyone's highest priority to hold and sustain her knowledge home.

If you can point to a CoP with a url (ala http://www.km4dev.org ), then this confirms my claim that CoPs are closed, structured, and bounded. If you refer to a CoP as a distributed network, than it's not a CoP anymore, for such a network lacks the elements characterizing a CoP as defined by Wenger, namely mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire. Unlike CoPs, today's learning/work environments are heterogeneous and distributive. They are not organized around a shared practice and do not produce a shared lore.

I'll appreciate if you join the discussion here and share your impression about CoPs. Are CoPs today the ideal environment to learn/work?