Community of Practice

I have met Etienne Wenger in 2000 when we were working on creating the LINC (Learning International Network Consortium) with Prof. Dick Larson in MIT. He introduced his Community of Practice to us as a group and I was fascinated with it (although I just comprehended it fully!). We had a nice chat especially about my Controlling Instincts theories which, somehow, complemented his theory. I do not remember whether I felt he accepted it because I was proud of myself or he dismissed it and I chose to ignore the fact. Few years later, I met him again at a conference held by University of Alberta… and to my amazement, he did not remember me although he remembered the project. It was an understandable shock.
Anyways, I read and reflected on his Community of Practice sporadically over the years until I was forced to study it as part of my doctoral studies. It was an optional topic that I opted to choose for I thought I could finish it quickly. To my amazement, it was a transformational experience. I saw it through a totally new eyes. Then I started seeing the world in a totally new eyes as well. I saw it as a complex field of circles. People who walk into the circle learn new language… they understand things in a way that people outside the circle cannot understand. Now, when I talk with someone, I try to figure out which circle he belongs to, I reflect to figure out if I know the paradigm of that circle, then I start using his terms. If I do not relate to his circle, I shut up, listen attentively and just nod. When I have a chance, I try to translate the conversation to terms I can relate to.

An Epiphany that has many applications.

One intimidate application is another epiphany I got when I was watching Gardner video (see it below). I related very quickly to his ideas. I am in his circle. Yet, in his talk, he hinted that many reputable theorists rejected his ideas. How can anyone reject Gardner’s ideas? They are so logical and natural. Then it hit me when he said: “my work in neuroscience influenced me”. Using CoP, he belongs to two circles: psychology and neurosciences. I can bet $100 that those who are opposing him are well versed in psychology, but not neuroscience… or some other circles I am not aware of… an epiphany: Wenger ideas could be applied here as well… What a great idea this “Community of Practice” is…

Another application: the above two experiences, the Wenger and Gardner, had an influence on a doctoral assignment I had to submit. It is simple: create a concept map about the relationships of the Learning Theories. However, based on the above two experiences, and based on my interaction with other doctoral students, I discovered that most educational studies classify and categories learning theory based on psychological paradigm (that is the Community of Psychological Practice). I thought: maybe I should come up with a new model that classify learning theories based on the Community of Practice of its curator… In this way, I will have an effective tool to understand where the theorist is coming from, what values and vocabulary they use, the connotations behind their words and, above all, understand in a better way those who criticize the theory.

What a week.

Below is a partial and an initial map I came up with which requires further analysis and compilations (click to enlarge):

Ah, I was almost going to forget Gardner’s video (it is long, but worth watching if you are interested in the background around Multiple Intelligences):