On learning (Etienne Wenger)

I’ve been reading about what learning is and how different theorists have conceptualised learning (or something …) in the context of maths education. Most of it makes a lot of sense, but then by the time you’ve read 7 different people’s slightly different (or occasionally radically different) views … it all gets a bit blurry and you start thinking it’s all tosh, especially if you’re a closet platonist like me (by which I mean: I find it very appealing to think that mathematical truth exists somewhere outside of an individual’s brain).

So anyway, I read the following, and thought it would be of general interest. What do you think?

“Wenger offers seven principles of learning:

  1. Learning is inherent in human nature. Learning happens all the time regardless of intention, design, or expectation. What is learned may not reflect what is taught nor is it necessarily good for us or our organization.
  2. Learning is fundamentally social. The opportunity for social participation drives learning and makes it meaningful. Our thoughts, works, concepts, images and symbols reflect our social participation. Therefore, learning is most effective when it occurs within the context of social participation.
  3. Learning changes who we are because it transforms our relationships with the world and our identities as social beings.
  4. Learning is a matter of engagement in practice. Learning enables us to engage in the world in certain ways, participate in socially-defined activities and contribute to a community and its enterprise. The engagement in practice determines what we learn and our ability to contribute to the community.
  5. Learning reflects participation in communities of practice. Shared enterprise promotes the development of a common practice, shared ways of doing things and relating to each other than enable individuals to achieve shared and individual objectives. Overtime, recognizable bonds are forged among members who share a common practice and a community of practice forms. Communities of practice are infinitely varied: formal or informal, enduring over centuries or over the course of a single project, productive and harmonious or destructive and adversarial. Learning is both the vehicle and the result of participation in a community of practice. Finally, communities of practice provide deep knowledge established over time, and with the potential to create new knowledge.
  6. Learning means dealing with boundaries. Communities of practice, by definition, create boundaries between participants and non-participants. Learning is the recognition and reconciliation of these boundaries. In successful learning organizations, boundaries of practice can be leveraged by promoting interaction and innovation.
  7. Learning is an interplay between the local and the global. Multiple communities of practice usualy exist within an organization, creating constellations of interrelated communities of practice. Local communities of practice are the locus of work that reflects and affects broader organizational issues and relationships. Whereas the relationship between an individual and the organization may be obscure, participation in local communities of practice provides the link. It is where learning takes place and where the meaning of belonging to the organization is forged and experienced.”

(Etienne Wenger, this taken from a citation in ‘Fundamental Constructs in Mathematics Education’, edited by J. Mason and S. Johnston-Wilder)


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