5.2 Community of Practice

Community of practice is a concept developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, and arose out of their study of workplace learning, though the concept can also apply in schools or informal settings. The basic concept of community of practice is that groups of people engaged in a common practice (e.g., job, hobby, etc.) have both explicit and tacit knowledge, which is passed from old-timers to newcomers through social processes. Not every community is a community of practice. Wenger (1998) describes the essential features of a community of practice as follows:

  • A domain, or shared area of distinct competence or expertise. This can be a formal profession or something less formal, such as a hobby, but it is more goal-oriented than just a gathering of friends.
  • A community where members work together, share information, and help each other.
  • A practice with a repertoire of tools, methods, etc.

Newcomers join a community of practice by first engaging in legitimate peripheral participation, where they contribute to the practice despite their novice skill level.  Their participation is peripheral because it is “an approximation of full participation that gives exposure to actual practice” (Wenger, 1998, p.10), but also legitimate if they are accepted as a member by the community.  As they gain skills and knowledge, the newcomers gradually progress to full participation and the mentoring of other newcomers.

For more information about communities of practice, see: this brief summary by Wenger.


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Foundations of Educational Technology Copyright © 2017 by Penny Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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