Communities of Practice: Key Words

Communities of Practice:

Key words: created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise
Wenger, 1998


Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger circa 2007)



Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991: 108-9) comment, ‘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’. This orientation has the definite advantage of drawing attention to the need to understand knowledge and learning in context. However, situated learning depends on:

  • connecting concepts to other areas of influence and importance
  • create something new from the internal locus of the CoP


Smith, M. K. (2003, 2009) ‘Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice’, the encyclopedia of informal education,

Wenger, Etienne (1998) ‘Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system’, Systems Thinker,

Wenger, Etienne (c 2007) ‘Communities of practice. A brief introduction’. Communities of practice [