Etienne Wenger

"A globally recognized thought leader in the field of social learning and communities of practice"
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Fast Facts

  • Born
    • 1952
    • Switzerland
  • Education
    • B.S. in Computer Science - University of Geneva, Switzerland
    • M.S. in Information and Computer Science - University of California at Irvine
    • Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science - University of California at Irvine
    • Honorary Ph.D. - University of Brighton, UK
  • Experience
    • Independent Researcher, Consultant, Author, and Speaker
    • Research Scientist (1987-1997)
    • Systems Analyst (1981-1982)
    • Assistant Principal, Unity School, Denver, CO (1977-1979)
    • French Teacher, Hong Kong (1974-1977)
  • Personal
    • Spouse: Beverly Wenger-Trayner
    • Location: Grass Valley, CA
    • Twitter: @etiennewenger
  • Theories and Categorization
    • Constructivism
    • Social Learning
    • Situated Learning (w/ Jean Lave)
    • Communities of Practice

Situated Learning and Communities of Practice

Wenger worked with anthropologist Jean Lave in their study of various groups of communities: Yucatec midwives, native tailors, navy quartermasters, meat cutters, and alcoholics. They found that learning occurs in the context or culture in which it is situated.

Situated Learning is also focused on the social interaction. Members form a "Community of Practice" with a shared culture, knowledge, actions, and interactions within the group. New members, as they become more engaged and accustomed to the activities and culture, can obtain the role of "expert." This process is referred to as Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP). During LPP, it is important to remember that knowledge is best transmitted among apprentices, or those at or near the same level.

  • Knowledge/information needs to be presented in a setting that would normally require that knowledge
  • Example: Tailors learning skills may not recall information off hand but during the activity can perform the action
  • Education
    • Project and problem based, group learning (integrated with tech.)
    • Students learning from students (self-paced classroom)
    • Apprenticeship and certification programs (design, computer science, auto)
    • Authentic activities connecting students both inside and outside the school
    • Field trips

Community of Practice (CoP)

The term was coined in Wenger and Lave's, Situated Learning (1991) to describe the social interaction among members of various groups. CoP's involve people who share a profession or similar interest. Knowledge and experience is acquired through the interactions of the group members.

CoP is not a label that applies only to modern professions, cultures, and groups. Rather, it is a reference to the interaction among group members that has taken place throughout the entirety of human existence. Wenger, for a more modern application, has described navigating the landscape of practice, in which a person who can navigate multiple CoP's will find success and achieve growth. Described here:

  • Knowledge/information needs to be presented in a setting that would normally require that knowledge
  • Example: A group of educators who engage in continued discussion via Twitter in regards to adopting educational technology
  • Education
    • Allowing for the formation of staff professional learning networks (staff)
    • Professional development in which a mock classroom is created or teachers can observe other teachers (staff)
    • Grouping students based on learning style and giving tasks to complete (classroom)
    • Self-paced classroom with student leaders (classroom)
    • Allowing for the creation of student-led discussions: verbal, discussion board, chatroom (classroom)

Digital Habitats

Wenger was commissioned by the Government to study technology designed to support communities of practice. Wenger looked at this relationship between communities and technology and highlighted the role of the "Technology Steward."
  • Has a strong understanding of the community and its needs (1st)
  • Strong understanding of technology
  • Ability to select appropriate and relevant technology to meet the needs of the community
  • Can bring the community in touch with new technology
  • Can integrate the technology into everyday life
  • An IT department in an organization must negotiate between the resources available and what the technological needs are
  • A school leadership team must deem what technology is both cost efficient and most effective in terms of delivering curriculum
  • Teachers must work with IT, curriculum developers, content providers, sales managers, fellow staff members, and the student body to acquire technology to meet the needs of their primary community

Important works (as applied to educational theory)

    • Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities (2009)
    • Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (1998)
    • Situated Learning (1991) - Co-authored with Jean Lave

Related Links