Learning in Landscapes: Research, Design, Praxis

One of my summer research strands is to extend the work and design I am doing around participatory and practice based learning.  I have found a few works exceptionally helpful and thought I would list them here in hopes others will too.

learninginlandscapesofpractice On my desk and causing an outpouring of thought and design is Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning.  

What I like about this work is that it builds on the previous works of Wenger and Lave on situational learning, perspective and identity specifically — Wenger (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity: Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives on CoP’s and the foundational work of Lave and Wenger on situational learning (1991)  Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation: Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives .  I will also add to this list the book all in education should read on critical ethnography by Lave (2011) Apprenticeship in Critical Ethnographic Practice .

I find each of these works intriguing and valuable towards the design of new professional development, organizational, and ultimately educational ecologies. Learning in Landscapes of Practice…. resonates because the concept of knowledgeability is so salient to schools and educational ecologies.  In education, our silos for competency are legion and attempts to integrate professional development and participatory learning for the whole organization are very difficult. One of the main reasons for this, is our lack of robust frameworks to understand and critique the whole educational system that exists, quite often at this point, to perpetuate itself, as opposed to the needs of learners and communities.

This is tough work to tackle and the space of theory in schools often neglected. A common refrain in K-12 schools, “We do not have enough time for theory, we just need to….”, or, “we will leave that to the experts”. These views are at opposition with the reality that education is a social construct, that must be theorized, constructed/reconstructed through praxis, and care-taken by individuals in the community. No educator, parent or policymaker should leave the spaces of education, specifically praxis, unexamined. So where theory can open your eyes to a million valleys of thought and wonder, ultimately praxis allows for experience, knowledge building and networking towards both the boundaries and possibilities of education. These are critical conversations to have in education and society and I feel we need to take a much closer look at what we are doing.

If you have considered these works in the K-12, Higher Ed or informal learning space please do reach out, via comment here or by way of Twitter, email….


  • Thanks for these recommendations. You know I’m wondering about this, and attempting a more considered approach, but never in the one spot long enough…

    • Leigh, I do know you are considering this and have pioneered huge efforts in the field. Have you had recent success with CoP to landscape of knowledgeability?– connection to your experiential scholarship in Networked Learning?

      So good to read your comment. I hope you, Sunshine and family are well.

  • This was so, so good, Thomas. Great thoughts with great references (all are new to me and all leave me wanting to explore them). I could underline everything you write, but I’m going to focus on this line: “No educator, parent or policymaker should leave the spaces of education, specifically praxis, unexamined.” That’s is so important. When I think about transcontextualism, I often get to thinking about cultural dark matter. You’ve isolated a source — if not the source — of cultural dark matter: a hyper-focus on practice without regard for the landscape and how it has changed around us. Theory is one tool to help us zoom out and think systematically.

    There is one thing that I would add to what you have written, specifically in the line that I quote above. The meta-conversation about learning and education offers students too an important conversation, one that’s ultimately more likely to develop critical thinking and system thinking skills than standard curriculum. An important caveat to that perspective is that students need to be allowed to step out of and come back to that meta conversation — and they will, as was our experience in the NMY. Sometimes talking about how/why/what we learn can become all-encompassing (good), but equally bad if there isn’t a way out. Unfortunately school schedules and calendars are used as a way to maintain balance rather than trusting people’s sense of passion/interest in what they are up to. Thus, I find myself again calling for student-led exploration with experienced learners by their side asking questions without demanding answers, patiently supporting and providing constructive criticism through inquiry, not assessment. I see the theory-praxis map (in all dimensions) as an uneven topography at any point, but self-correcting and balanced in the long run if given space and time rather than being beholden to metrics.

    Well, that’s a long-winded way of saying that I am grateful for what you wrote. :)

    • Thank you, Rob. Your voice and more importantly experience in self determined learning is so valuable. What we as elders do to create and co-create learning ecologies independent of the common narrative is so unexplored. How easy it is to be in the steam ship, chugging ahead with power and direction– not easily turned, how difficult it is to know the sail, and point it into the wind (or more important here — storm) — even more complex to be in the kayak, in a flow (to make popular the metaphor) and loving learning and flux and flow as a learning mentor/teacher must. IS it possible for a school to collectivize in theory, design together and apply through praxis, while deliberating the process and iteration making? I think so….

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