Sunday, October 21, 2007

Informal Learning - Etienne Wenger


There is a new understanding of learning. It is about who we are as learners, not a technique but as an experience of being alive and of being in the world. A social perspective on learning is a perspective of learning to become a person who has a certain experience of the world.

A community of practice is a group of people who:
- share similar challenges
- interact regularly
- learn from and with each other
- improve their ability to address their challenges

Managing the intersection between the formal and the informal is becoming increasingly important. Some trends that help explain that. The major trends shaping learning in the 21st century are:

- The strategic importance of knowledge.

- Globalisation. These trends lead us to live in a tension between the local and the global. The tension is a place for negotiating individual identity, a place for negotiating with others about how we belong.

- Partialisation of learning imperatives. In any domain of importance no-one can claim expertise. You need others. You need to distribute the work of doing the learning.

- The emergence of social software. The reason it is taking off today is because it is in synch with that process of finding other co-learners.

Importance of boundaries. Can’t think of a community without thinking of boundaries. A community won’t survive by being closed. How do you create boundary processes? Being a broker between communities is not easy to do. We live at the intersection of the boundaries of different communities.

Who we are as learning citizens is becoming a central question to a social theory of learning. A community of practice is people who use their experience as a curriculum of learning. It's bringing people to bring their practice as a way of binding people together.


A question from the audience about the importance of facilitators in communities of practice. - CoPs existed before facilitators. Communities are a natural form that people have used to be together for many centuries. If you bring it into the 20the century, then the role of facilitator is very important. Two important roles are the role of convenor of the community and coordinator of the community. The convenor is someone who has a legitimate claim to being part of the community. Role of the coordinator is someone who brings people together.

The importance of community, domain and practice. You don’t have a community of practice if you don’t have all three elements.

Sometimes people challenge that the theory of communities or practice doesn’t address issues of power. But power is important. The very notion of community has to deal with the notion of power. Definition of the domain and definition of the community was always something that was contestable. We should not be led to thiking that we have dealt with issues of power. If there is a sense of community, then there is something worth struggling for.

Elearning has to engage with certain trends:

- Horizontalisation of learning. Even traditionally hierarchical organisations like the World Bank are changing from being a provider to bringing people together to negotiate the relevance of what they know. The expert voice becomes one of the voices in a community. Negotiation of mutual relevance is essential.

- Personalisation of value creation. People who are making a difference are personally engaged. They use their experience of the world as a source of creativity for addressing problems. A community of practice is a vehicle for engaging a person’s identity with what is taking place. It is not compliance based.

- Design. Organisations that will be successful are those that can give value creation to their engagement in negotiation. Questions of a cognitive theorist: we have a curriculum that we put into the head of the student which we can test. A communities of practice question is: where have your students visited? Where have they had a sense of meaningfulness in it? It’s a different experience of learning than testing what’s in your head.

- Process of individualisation. Knowledge is a property of communities. The experience of individuality is an experience of the collective. Each of us is a unique intersection of many communities. It’s very different from living in one community as we used to. Now there are thousands of possibilities of belonging. The individualisation process is the result of the complexity of the world.

- Identity. The big question of learners in the world today is one of identity. Who am I in this sea of information? What is the information everyone should have. Question is - who am I becoming? We can look at identity as curriculum and identity as a resource.

There are two important questions to ask ourselves:

1. What are the key domains that would serve as social spaces for learning? Is it a domain that you can engage your identity with? How does someone who is overlooking the learning system see the investment is a variety of strategic or non-strategic domains. How does that work as a whole system?

2. If it is true that the knowledge of a social system exists in a constellation of communities of practice, then how are you as a learner living in that system? Which community should you belong to as a core member, as a periphery member? What is required for the management of yourself in those different communities. What is my responsibility as a broker between communities. When is it my responsibility to build a community? How to see and open a new space... how to use my vulnerability as a practitioner.

Bev Trayner (Rapporteur)

1 comment:

Gina Souto said...

It was an interesting session!

I could not participate in the workshop. Tiny space to an author like Etienne Wenger :(