Recording of Etienne Wenger’s talk

Here is the link to the talk given by Etienne Wenger to Lancaster University, UK last month – Learning in and across landscapes of practice.

This is a long talk and there is a lot in it to digest. Etienne talks about social learning theory, identity, communities of practice, power, knowledge and learning in the 21st century – too much to comment on here – but these are some of the notes I jotted down (for my own purposes – not intended as a report) at the time.


  • Theory in social sciences is a way of talking about the world.
  • Theories that try to explain everything tend to be reductionist. Reducing the human experience to one thing is not very helpful.
  • Theories need to define what they are good for and find plug and play connections to other theories.


  • Identity is a filter to decide whether to invest in a community or not.
  • How do you manage your identity in  world which is so complex and where there are so many mountains to climb?
  • The burden of identity is shifting towards the person. There is a breakdown of the parallelism between identity and community.

Learning and boundaries

  • Any history of learning creates boundaries between those who are part of the learning and those who are not. The world is full of boundaries. They are not avoidable. We need to travel across practices and boundaries.
  • Travelling across hills and valleys of landscapes of practice is what makes the world an interesting place.
  • Boundaries can lead to learning potential, but also potential for misunderstandings.


  • Practice is what brings people together.
  • No practice can fully design the learning of another.
  • All practices are part of the system and have to negotiate boundaries.
  • Practice is a response to design not an output of design.

Communities of practice

  • CoPs have implications for organisations as they might be working under the radar of vertical accountability of the organisation (working on a horizontal dimension)
  • Communities of practice cannot be built. Only members can build communities. But they can be enabled.
  • A CoP is a learning partnership. A group may or may not be a learning partnership. A team is not usually a community of practice.
  • A CoP is a vehicle by which an organisation can place its strategic development in the hands of the practitioners.
  • A classroom is not a CoP. It is instructional design.

Knowledge and learning

  • Knowledge is power. Learning is a claim to competence. Learning is power in both directions.
  • Learning is its own enemy. The paradox is that learning gives you power, but that power also limits your learning.
  • Power and knowledge are always part of the equation. Learning is achieving a state of knowledgeability.
  • The view of curriculum in institutions is ‘to fill it up’. CoP theory view of curriculum is that learning has to follow construction of meaning, not precede it.

These notes do not do justice to Etienne’s talk – so it is good to have the link to be able to listen to it again. Thanks to Lancaster University for sharing the link.

8 thoughts on “Recording of Etienne Wenger’s talk

  1. Heli Nurmi June 13, 2011 / 1:48 pm

    Thanks about the link, I listened the recording again.

    I should like to draw the mountains I want to climb. But intentionality is a tricky thing, said Etienne Wenger. We are locked in the struggle …

    I could be wise to listen the best videos again and again – instead of running after everything New.. I have age u know

    Have a nice summer!

  2. jennymackness June 14, 2011 / 6:17 pm

    Hi Heli – thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the recording. I agree that some things need more than one if not many ‘listens’! Next month I am attending Etienne Wenger’s BEtreat workshop in California – – so even more to listen to and reflect on 🙂 Plenty to keep me busy over the summer!

    Hope you enjo your summer too.


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