Lave & Wenger Legitimate Peripheral Participation in Communities of Practice

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chapter 4: Legitimate Peripheral Participation in Communities of Practice

Structuring Resources for Learning in Practice

·      "In short, the form in which such legitimate access is secured for apprentices depends on the characteristics of the division of labor in the social milieu in which the community of practices is located (p. 92)."

·      "It should be clear that, in shaping the relation of masters to apprentices, the issue of conferring legitimacy is more important than the issue of providing teaching (p. 92)." This quotation really struck me. It may me wonder why the focus for a master is on the master's status and legitimacy rather than his/her ability to teach. Such a statement devalues the role of teaching when, in fact, I would think that a master's ability to teach would contribute to the legitimacy.

·      How does this quotation relate to supervision? "Even in the case of tailors, where the relation of apprentice to master is specific and explicit, it is not this relationship but rather the apprentice's relations to other apprentices and even to other masters that organize opportunities to learn; an apprentice's own master is too distant, an object of too much respect, to engage with in awkward attempts at new activity (p. 92)." Okay, where to begin with this quote... first of all, it makes me wonder whether Lave and Wenger are really trying to say that apprenticeship is really to a communities of practices through its members through multiple apprenticeships than to a single master. Moreover, in some ways, this quotation makes sense and also links back to the quote above. Because the master is held in such great respect from the apprentice's perspective, to make a mistake in the eyes of perfection is very uncomfortable and stifles the apprentice's performance and participation in the community of practice. In this way, Lave & Wenger are trying to make their point about legitimacy over teaching for the master. Even if the master were a great teacher, the stifling, hierarchical role of master to apprentice impedes teaching. Therefore all that would matter is the master's status. (I'm still not sure that I go along with that thought, but I think that's their point. I still think that teaching should be a characteristic of legitimacy and thereby inseparable from legitimacy.)

·      In apprenticeships teaching is not observable; only learning is. "The practice of the community crease the potential 'curriculum' in the broadest sense - that which may be learned by newcomers with legitimate peripheral access (pp. 92-93)."

·      "In apprenticeship opportunities for learning are, more often than not, given structure by work practices instead of by strongly asymmetrical master-apprentice relations (p. 93)." This statement would strengthen my claim that apprenticeship is more to a community of practice than to an individual, but then again, can a concept such a community of practice, a collective noun of individual participants with various skills, knowledge, membership, and participation whose characteristics would deem him/her a master in the eyes of the newcomer, really be a master as a collective body of knowledge and experiences of which it is the apprentice's responsibility to learn?

·      The relational nature of learning increases the speed at which knowledge is passed among peers and near-peers.

·      "The effectiveness of the circulation of information among peers suggests, to the contrary, that engaging in a practice, rather than being its object, may well be a condition for the effectiveness of learning (p. 93)."

·      "To take a decentered view of master-apprentice relations leads to an understanding that mastery resides not in the master but in the organization of the community of practice of which the master is part: The master as the locus of authority (in several senses) is, after all, as much a product of the conventional, centered theory of learning as is the individual learner. Similarly, a decentered view of the master as pedagogue moves the focus of analysis away from teaching and onto the intricate structuring of a community's learning resources (p. 94)."


The Place of Knowledge: Participation, Learning Curricula, Communities of Practice

·      Definition of informal learning: "That is, apprentices are supposed to acquire the 'specifics' of practice through 'observation and imitation (p. 95)." This is not so in Lave & Wenger's eyes.

·      Informal learning as a concept does not exist. Instead: "We argue instead that the effects of peripheral participation on knowledge-in-practice are not properly understood; and that studies of apprenticeship have presumed too literal a coupling of work processes and learning processes (p. 95)."

·      Learning occurs through participation: "To begin with, newcomers' legitimate peripherality provides them with more than an 'observational' lookout post: It crucially involves participation as a way of learning - of both absorbing and being absorbed in  - the 'culture of practice' (p. 95)."

·      A lengthy period of time of legitimate peripheral participation allows the apprentice to construct a general understanding of the form and function of the community of practice and its membership: "From a broadly peripheral perspective, apprentices gradually assemble a general idea of what constitutes the practice of the community. This uneven sketch of the enterprise (available if there is legitimate access) might include who is involved; what they do; what everyday life is like; how masters talk, walk, work, and generally conduct their lives; how people who are not part of the community of practice interact with it; what other learners are doing; and what learners need to learn to become full practitioners. It includes an increasing understanding of how, when, and about what old-timers collaborate, collude, and collide, and what they enjoy, dislike, respect, and admire. In particular, it offers exemplars (which are grounds and motivation for learning activity), including masters, finished products, and more advanced apprentices in the process of becoming full practitioners (p. 95)."

·      The newcomer's or apprentice's perspective of the COP changes through his/her participation: "Viewpoints from which to understand the practice evolve through changing participation in the division of labor, changing relations to ongoing community practices, and changing social relations in the community (p. 96)."

·      Definition of learning curriculum: "A learning curriculum is a field of learning resources in everyday practice viewed from the perspective of learners (p. 97)."

·      Definition of a teaching curriculum: "A teaching curriculum, by contrast, is constructed for the instruction of newcomers. When a teaching curriculum supplies - and thereby limits - structuring resources for learning, the meaning of what is learned (and control of access to it, both in its peripheral forms and its subsequently more complex and intensified, though possibly more fragmented, forms) is mediated through an instructor's participation, by an external view of what knowing is about (p. 97)." I think, though, that the absence of a teaching curriculum in order to not inhibit the learning and make it more authentic for the apprentice would require certain characteristics of the apprentice. S/he would need to be observant and reflective and need skills to gain access to and actually engage in participation. Therefore, Lave & Wenger view teaching and learning as learning through the participant's perspective. Is there, then, no such thing as teaching?

·      "A learning curriculum is essentially situated. It is not something that can be considered in isolation, manipulated in arbitrary didactic terms, or analyzed apart from the social relations that shape legitimate peripheral participation (p. 97)."

·      Communities of Practice contain members who participate at various and multiple levels and bring diverse interests, perspectives, and activities to the community of practice.

·      Definition of a community of practice: "It does imply participation in an activity system about which participants share understandings concerning what they are doing and what that means in their lives and for their communities (p. 98)." "A community of practice is a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice (p. 98)."

·      "Thus, participation in the cultural practice in which any knowledge exists is an epistemological principle of learning (p. 98)."

·      "In summary, rather than learning by replicating the performances of others or by acquiring knowledge transmitted in instruction, we suggest that learning occurs through centripetal participation in the learning curriculum of the ambient community. Because the place of knowledge is within a community of practice, questions of learning must be addressed within the developmental cycles of that community, a recommendation which creates a diagnostic tool for distinguishing among communities of practice (p. 100)." In what developmental cycles are the communities of practice in which hybrids engage?


The Problem of Access: Transparency and Sequestration

·      "To become a full member of a community of practice requires access to a wide range of ongoing activity, old-timers, and other members of the community; and to information, resources, and opportunities for participation (pp. 100-101)."

·      "Becoming a full participant certainly includes engaging with the technologies of everyday practice, as well as participating in the social relationships, production processes, and other activities of communities of practice (p. 101)."

·      "Thus, understanding the technology of practice is more than learning to use tools; it is a way to connect with the history of the practice and to participate more directly in its cultural life (p. 101)."

·      Making artifacts transparent: "But there is more to understanding the use and significance of an artifact: Knowledge within a community of practice and ways of perceiving and manipulating objects characteristic of community practices are encoded in artifacts in ways that can be more or less revealing (p. 102)." (MY THOUGHTS - Can thinking be an artifact? A cognitive artifact perhaps?)

·      "Obviously, the transparency of any technology always exists with respect to some purpose and is intricately tied to the cultural practice and social organization within which the technology is meant to function: It cannot be viewed as a feature of an artifact in itself but as a process that involves specific forms of participation, in which the technology fulfills a mediating function (p. 102)."

·      "Depending on the organization of access, legitimate peripherality can either promote or prevent legitimate participation (p. 103)."


Discourse and Practice

·      "Issues about language, like those about the role of masters, may well have more to do with legitimacy of participation and with access to peripherality than they do with knowledge transmission (p. 105)."

·      "The point about language use is consonant with the earlier argument that didactic instruction creates unintended practices. The conflict stems from the fact that there is a difference between talking about a practice from outside and talking within it. Thus the didactic use of language, not itself the discourse of practice, creates a new linguistic practice, which has an existence of its own. Legitimate peripheral participation in such that newcomers learn the actual practice the language is supposed to be about (p. 108)."

·      This part has implications for PDS - Part of what it means to be a PDA means acquiring a bank of appropriate situations or stories regarding supervision, interns, mentoring, teaching, etc. and knowing the appropriate time and place and with whom to share that knowledge. Storytelling contributes to a person's identity and participation in a community of practice: "For apprenticeship learning is supported by conversations and stories about problematic and especially difficult cases (p. 108)."

·      "For newcomers then the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation (p. 109)." (I would argue though that there is merit in learning from the stories. We listen to others tell stories in order to help us solve our own dilemmas.)


Motivation and Identity: Effects of Participation

·      "Legitimate peripheral participation is an initial form of membership characteristic of such a community. Acceptance by and interaction with acknowledged adept practitioners make learning legitimate and of value from the point of view of the apprentice (p. 110)."

·      "At the same time, productive peripherality requires less demands on time, effort, and responsibility for work than for full participants. A newcomer's tasks are short and simple, the costs of errors are small, the apprentice has little responsibility for the activity as a whole (p. 110)."

·      "An apprentice's contributions to ongoing activity gain value in practice - a value which increases as the apprentice becomes more adept. As opportunities for understanding how well or poorly one's efforts contribute are evident in practice, legitimate participation of a peripheral kind provides an immediate ground for self-evaluation. The sparsity of tests, praise, or blame typical of apprenticeship follows from the apprentice's legitimacy as a participant (p. 111)."

·      "Such knowledge is of course important; but a deeper sense of the value of participation to the community and the learner lies in becoming part of the community (p. 111)."

·      "Moving towards full participation in practice involves not just a greater commitment of time, intensified effort, more and broader responsibilities within the community, and more difficult and risky tasks, but, more significantly, an increasing sense of identity as a master practitioner (p. 111)."

·      "First, the identity of learners becomes an explicit object of change. When central participation is the subjective intention motivating learning, changes in cultural identity and social relations are inevitably part of the process, but learning does not have to be mediated - and distorted - through a learner's view of "self" as object (p. 112)."

·      "Second, where there is no cultural identity encompassing the activity in which newcomers participate and no field of mature practice for what is being learned, exchange value replaces the use value of increasing participation (p. 112)."

·      Testing is unnecessary in apprenticeship learning: "Test taking then becomes a new parasitic practice, the goal of which is to increase the exchange value of learning independently of it use value (p. 112)." (sic)


Contradictions and Change: Continuity and Displacement

·      "Learning understood as legitimate peripheral participation is not necessarily or directly dependent on pedagogical goals or official agenda, even in situations in which these goals appear to be a central factor (e.g., classroom instruction, tutoring) (pp. 113-114)."

·      The tension that exists during social reproduction: "The different ways in which old-timers and newcomers establish and maintain identities conflict and generate competing viewpoints on the practice and its development. Newcomers are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, they need to engage in the existing practice, which has developed over time: to understand it, to participate in it, and to become full members of the community in which it exists. On the other hand, they have a stake in its development as they begin to establish their own identity in its future (p. 115)."

·      "...learning and a sense of identity are inseparable: They are aspects of the same phenomenon (p. 115)."

·      A newcomer's identity is a fundamental concept of legitimate peripheral participation and determines the future of the newcomer in the community of practice.

·      Power is present in conflict.

·      "Learners can be overwhelmed, overawed, and overworked. Yet even when submissive imitation is the result, learning is never simply a matter of the 'transmission' of knowledge or the 'acquisition' of skill: identity in relation with practice, and hence knowledge and skill and their significance to the subject and the community, are never unproblematic. This helps to account for the common observation that knowers come in a range of types, from clones to heretics (p. 116)."

·      Newcomers bring conflict because of their perspectives: "Granting legitimate participation to newcomers with their own viewpoints introduces into any community of practice all the tensions of the continuity-displacement contradiction. These may be muted, though not extinguished, by the differences of power between old-timers and newcomers (p. 116)."

·      Legitimate peripheral participation is in a context of a constant state of motion (and evolution???). Change is a fundamental concept of a community of practice.

·      I would add that it exposes tacit knowledge: "Legitimate peripherality is important for developing 'constructively naïve' perspectives or questions. From this point of view, inexperience is an asset to be exploited. It is of use, however, only in the context of participation, when supported by experienced practitioners who both understand its limitations and value its role (p. 117)."

·      "Insofar as this continual interaction of new perspectives is sanctioned, everyone's participation is legitimately peripheral is some respect. In other words, everyone can to some degree be considered a 'newcomer' to the future of a changing community (p. 117)."