Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Can legitimate peripheral participation occur in formalized education?

“There is no activity that is not situated” (p. 33). Since all things only have meaning within a given context, knowledge is context-bound, and learning must take into account these parameters in order to occur. I can see how this is more than “learning by doing;” it’s not enough to accommodate tactile senses or to mimic processes. Participatory learning activities situated in a state removed from their original context are ineffective. In order to learn, one must become a “full participant in a sociocultural practice” (p. 29).

I’m interning for an organization in my department that works off the premise that the greatest indicator of learning is student engagement, or “the amount of time and energy that students invest in meaningful educational practices.” In my mind, this premise echoes Lave’s and Wenger’s notion of learners being “full participants;” that “learning, thinking, and knowing are relations among people in activity in, with, and arising from the socially and culturally structured world” (p. 51). It’s this idea that learning “is an evolving form of membership” (p. 53). The problem is, the efforts of this organization are set within the framework of formal higher education, and students are being pushed to engage in a structure disengaged from the context in which the knowledge they present is situated.

Lave and Wenger provide wonderful examples of legitimate peripheral participation within natural settings, emphasizing the commitment of “learner” and “master” to the cause, “learner” involvement in productive activity, and social relations within a community. Can these characteristics be brought into our formalized educational structure?


Blogger Annie said...

In their book, "The Knowing Doing Gap," Pfeffer & Sutton discuss the difficulties and benefits of managing knowledge generation and diffusion within an organization. They emphasize that knowledge is not only a renewable resource, it grows the more it is distributed, because it interacts with each person's or department's context.

I offer this as an alternative perspective to your assertion that "all things only have meaning within a given context." I think Lave & Wenger would say that all things have meaning within a given context.

Meaning is influenced by context, meaning changes when context changes. It seems to me that the knowledge offered in a given context will always be influenced by the other contexts in which the learner participates, (as a direct participant or a legitimate peripheral participant).

10:06 PM  

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