Communities of Practice are a powerful and highly influential concept, developed by Lave and Wenger (1991) and later refined by Wenger (1998) and Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002). It is an abstract and challenging concept, but, once understood, it results in a better conceptual understanding of learning and design for learning.
Identity is a social construct, according to Wenger. It is formed by participation (and non-participation) in a range of communities. There can be communities at work, school, family or nation-wide. Secondly, identity is determined by the way how we ‘negotiate meaning’ in those communities. In other words, how we influence the activities in those communities.
Negotiability refers to the ability, facility and legitimacy to contribute to, take responsibility for and shape the meanings that matter within a social configuration.
Wenger identifies two ways of influencing within a community: participation and reification. Participation is the direct interaction between members of a community. Reification is the use of artefacts such as lesson plans, guidelines or a curriculum to impose or affect others’ behaviour. In learning design an optimal combination of both ways is necessary to achieve the learning outcomes.
For example, in a workshop for teacher trainers a focus solely on participation may have the result that participants find it difficult to ‘transcend’ their practice, cross boundaries and develop new conceptual understanding. Too much focus on the reification, for example by imposing a lesson plan - aspect may lead to alienation with participants, who feel that they don’t have any impact on the design process. It lowers the status of the participants in the community and they will likely formally comply without creating any ownership.