Tuesday, September 13, 2005

situated learning in virtual communities?

This week I found to be an interesting coincidence, as I had to read Situated Learning for this course and then Communities of Practice, another book by Wenger for my Group Communication course in the same week. I thought the timing of reading both was a distinct advantage for me in understanding how the two books tie closely together how we learn from a societal and participatory perspective.

One of the main points I garnered from Lave and Wenger in Situated Learning is how much learning is not an individual-activity and that it does not occur in a vacuum. The learning involves several aspects - the resources nearby, the interactions that occur in the community surrounding you and inside your learning group, the experiences undertaken during the learning and artifacts that help to solidify the knowledge versus what the apprentice master may be teaching. Lave and Wenger’s examples of apprentice situations I thought demonstrated to me how the structure of the apprenticeship shaped more of the learning than did the teaching by the master of the skill. I thought the clearest examples that they used to communicate this were the Yucatec midwives and the meat cutters. In both cases, they were given little instruction for their work but learned the skills and knowledge from participation in this group of practice with others over any other technique.

Of all the chapters, I found Chapter 4 the most useful in helping me to understand exactly how legitimate peripheral participation operates particularly in the areas of the place of knowledge to the problems of access as a newcomer. I found that this chapter really connected for me what defines legitimate peripheral participation as a constant transformation and development of meanings derived from persons, activities, and knowledge in communities of similar focus, purpose or practice.

I was thinking how much does the situated learning that Lave and Wenger propose for understanding and reviving apprenticeship can be applied to the world of technology today in creating new forms of learning communities that are virtual in nature. I don’t mean distance education or online courses but more a matter of chat rooms where people gather to discuss/debate any sort of topic (health chats on WebMD or women’s issues via chat on iVillage as examples) to the multiple online player video games that are now so popular with the younger folks – how much do these virtual communities support an environment that allows for situated learning? Is it possible that learning can be achieved where the individuals that participate in these chats or video games help each other out in finding a solution to a vexing problem or confusing game play? Can apprentices be located in these virtual communities? Can these virtual communities count as places for legitimate peripheral participation and how does this transform the concept of learning in a social world?


Blogger IB said...

Very interesting questions that you posed toward the end of your reading response. Can legitimate peripheral participation be applied to online learning communities? I would certainly describe learning in online communities as a process of social construction of knowledge, but the way I understood Lave and Wenger, they even take one more step than previous theories did. They seem to assume that for legitimate peripheral to take place there have to be persons who have already moved toward full participation in the community of practice who are then observed by the newcomers/novices. This means that in your examples there have to be persons who already have some experience in which ever field it is (e.g. a certain computer game). How would Lave and Wenger account for learning in a community that consists completely of novices? Another question that came to my mind, how would Lave and Wenger explain the emergence of new knowledge? How would they e.g. explain the discovery of the Wassermann reaction as described in Fleck? Certainly a community of practice can be identified in this case, but the knowledge had not existed, so Wassermann could not observe a full participant and come up with his reaction. Maybe I did not understand Lave and Wenger completely because I have trouble applying there concept to a range of learning situations.

10:04 AM  
Blogger jmj said...

I would think online communities would provide a great example of this type of learning. They might be modeled more on the meatcutters example, however, for they often are "designed" to excluded newcomers or outsiders. For this reason, it is very difficult to master some of them (I'm really thinking of online gaming communities here) without help from a more experienced individual.

10:30 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

While online learning communities have potential, I wonder how much any individual can be a "full participant" in them. In the examples presented by Lave and Wenger, it seems apprenticeships are interwoven into most aspects of life: the tailors live with their masters, the sailors are sailors 24/7, the daughters of midwives grow up experiencing the occupation as another part of life. Can chat rooms foster that level of involvement and exposure? For me, I'm afraid if I person did spend that much time in a chat room I'd assume something was wrong, not right....

12:50 PM  

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