Fuller, Alison, Hodkinson, Heather, Hodkinson, Phil and Unwin, Lorna
Learning as peripheral participation in communities of practice: a reassessment of key concepts in workplace learning
British Educational Research Journal, 31, (1), . (doi:10.1080/0141192052000310029).
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This article explores the strengths and weaknesses of Lave and Wenger's concept of 'legitimate peripheral participation' as a means of understanding workplace learning. It draws on recent ESRC-funded research by the authors in contemporary workplace settings in the UK (manufacturing industry and secondary schools) to establish the extent to which Lave and Wenger's theories can adequately illuminate the nature and process of learning at work. The new research presented here, which was located in complex institutional settings, highlights the diverse nature of patterns and forms of participation. Case study evidence is used to identify individual and contextual factors which underpin and illuminate the ways in which employees learn. The paper argues that whilst Lave and Wenger's work continues to provide an important source of theoretical insight and inspiration for research in to learning at work, it has significant limitations. These limitations relate to the application of their perspective to contemporary workplaces in advanced industrial societies and to the institutional environments in which people work. These complex settings play a crucial role in the configuration of opportunities and barriers to learning that employees encounter.
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