#betreat12 Communities of practice and learning

These notes are from the Academic BEtreat reading on communities of practice and learning, pages 72 -102 in Etienne’s book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity 

Chapter 2 on Community raised one question for me

How does social learning theory relate to complexity theory and connectivism? I would like to hear what Etienne and others have to say about this.

Chapter 3 on Learning gave me a surprising ‘Ah-ha’ moment in the following three lines

For those who do not think of their job as learning (Etienne is referring to the work of claims processors here) – this is because what they learn is their practice. Learning is not reified as an extraneous goal or as a special category of activity or membership (p.95)

This was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment for me because last year I had difficulty relating to the cultural context and work on communities of practice done by the large corporate organisations represented at BEtreat11. I blogged about it in this post.   And then recently when Etienne and Bev spoke to the FSLT12 MOOC,  Bev caught me on the hop when she challenged me to explain what I meant by my blog post and I realised that I hadn’t thought this through clearly enough and wasn’t able to articulate what I meant. I only knew at the time (last year) that the work of the large corporations did not resonate with my experience or understanding of what is a community of practice.

Following Bev’s challenge I thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that the difference was to do with values, i.e. ultimately the purpose of a CoP in an organisation like Shell seems to me to be principally about knowledge management and through this making money for the company, or gaining strategic advantage. Learning in these CoPs serves this purpose. As Etienne writes above, what they learn is their practice. In the CoPs that I work in (which are education related), whilst learning is entwined with practice, it is also reified as an extraneous goal or a special category of activity. In some academic communities the reified learning is supremely important – this thought comes to mind as I am currently writing this whilst staying at Exeter College in Oxford, where reified knowledge is almost palpable in the air around you. 🙂

So Chapter 3 has, I think, answered my troubling question for me – but I’ll be interested to hear what others think (if they are interested in whether there is a distinction between corporate and academic CoPs).

For the purposes of the BEtreat, here are my notes from the reading.

Chapter 2 Community

Key words

Mutual engagement, joint enterprise, shared repertoire, relationships, negotiation, accountability, meaning

Notes

  • Mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire define the community
  • Practice does not exist in the abstract (p.73)
  • CoPs are not necessarily homogeneous
  • Engagement defines identity and involves ours and others’ competence
  • Mutual accountability is an integral part of practice
  • CoPs are more about sharing than expertise
  • Joint enterprise is negotiated
  • Joint enterprise creates resources for negotiating meaning. These resources become the shared repertoire/history of the community, which is inherently ambiguous

 Chapter 3 Learning

Key words

Participation, reification, history, learning, practice, peripherality, legitimacy, emergence, remembering, forgetting, identity

Notes

  • Not everything we do is learning
  • Learning is not just the acquisition of skills, habits, memories, but also the formation of identity
  • Participation and reification can influence practice through memory, continuity and discontinuity, convergence and divergence
  • p.87.’The world and our experience are in motion, but they don’t move in lockstep’ so there is always uncertainty (I noted this because of my interest in and research on emergent learning)
  • p.89 ‘Our identities become anchored in each other and what we do together. As a result it is not easy to become a radically new person in the same community of practice. Conversely it is not easy to transform oneself without the support of a community.’ (I find this a fascinating statement as it alludes to the difficulties of getting the balance right between ‘group think’ and  support)
  • Participation and communication are channels of power available to participants. (I hope we have further discussions about the role of power in relation to learning)
  • p.93 Because the negotiation of meaning is the convergence of participation and reification, controlling both participation and reification affords control (but not complete unchanging control)over the kinds of meaning that can be created in a certain context and the kinds of person that participants can become.
  • Control must constantly be reproduced, reasserted, renegotiated in practice.
  • Practice is not an object to be handed down from one generation to the next – it is a shared history of learning.

4 thoughts on “#betreat12 Communities of practice and learning

  1. red rabbit skills services July 26, 2012 / 8:13 am

    Thanks so much for posting this. Especially around community, for me this is valuable.

  2. Vera July 26, 2012 / 10:57 am

    Thks for sharing Jenny! 🙂 I couldn’t go to these sessions. So you are a kind of my eyes and ears
    Glad you share! 🙂

  3. Bev Trayner July 26, 2012 / 7:46 pm

    Jenny, isn’t “reifying learning as a special category” a practice? And that practice is invisible to those who do it!

  4. jennymackness July 27, 2012 / 11:53 am

    Hi Bev – yes, I agree, which I tried to cover in saying ‘learning is entwined with practice’ – I obviously didn’t express myself very well.

    Not sure what you mean by ‘that practice is invisible to those who do it’.

    I’m struggling to get a handle on this – i.e. why I found it difficult to relate to the big corporate CoPs at last year’s BEtreat. When, last year, we were shown the community site of one of the corporate CoPs I simply did not recognise it as a CoP. To me it was a knowledge management site and that was it’s primary purpose.

    In the education communities I have worked in, knowledge management is there but is implicit rather than explicit, but learning is explicit as the purpose rather than implicit. Still not sure if I have this sorted. I might be trying to rationalise my lack of understanding – or the distinction might simply not be important. But it disturbed me at last year’s BEtreat.

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