What does it mean to learn?

What does it mean to learn? Is it the reception and storage of knowledge and information, or does learning encompass more than instruction and learning often exemplified in traditional classrooms? 

Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger write that learning is naturally social and occurs in more fluid ways that have traditionally been defined. Legitimate peripheral participation boils down to the journey newcomers and oldtimers take together within their moving field of practice. Lave and Wenger share field examples of how midwives, tailors, quartermasters, butchers, and participants in the Alcoholics Anonymous program enter their respective learning areas–first as peripheral participants–and through legitimate practice, develop their knowledge, skill, and discourse moving from novices to experts.

The key points Lave and Wenger emphasize are:

  • Learners inevitably participate in communities of practice
  • To master knowledge and skills, newcomers become partial (peripheral) participants in an area they are trying to learn. In this participation, they interact with and learn from experts (full participants) and eventually develop into full participants themselves. 
  • Relationships elements between newcomers and old-timers include:
    • Communities of knowledge and practice 
    • Artifacts
    • Identities
    • Activities
  • As individuals learn, they develop their
    • Knowledge
    • Skill
    • Discourse

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation is a dynamic read on what it means to learn which respects the fact that learning occurs as we interact with others in our social worlds.