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Within and Beyond Communities of Practice: Making Sense of Learning Through Participation, Identity and Practice*

Karen Handley, Andrew Sturdy, Robin Fincham and Timothy Clark

Journal of Management Studies, 2006, vol. 43, issue 3, 641-653

Abstract: abstract Situated learning theory offers a radical critique of cognitivist theories of learning, emphasizing the relational aspects of learning within communities of practice in contrast to the individualist assumptions of conventional theories. However, although many researchers have embraced the theoretical strength of situated learning theory, conceptual issues remain undeveloped in the literature. Roberts, for example, argues in this issue that the notion of ‘communities of practice’– a core concept in situated learning theory – is itself problematic. To complement her discussion, this paper explores the communities of practice concept from several perspectives. Firstly, we consider the perspective of the individual learner, and examine the processes which constitute ‘situated learning’. Secondly, we consider the broader socio‐cultural context in which communities of practice are embedded. We argue that the cultural richness of this broader context generates a fluidity and heterogeneity within and beyond communities. Finally, we argue that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish conceptually between the terms ‘participation’ and ‘practice’ because of occasional duplication of meaning. We propose, instead, a refinement of the definition to allow for greater conceptual clarity.

Date: 2006
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