Wenger, Etienne 1952-
WENGER, Etienne 1952-
PERSONAL: Born 1952. Education: University of California at Irvine, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Piano, guitar.
CAREER: Consultant on knowledge management; formerly affiliated with the Institute for Research on Learning. Teacher.
Artificial Intelligence and Tutoring Systems: Computational and Cognitive Approaches to the Communication of Knowledge, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers (Los Altos, CA), 1987.
(With Richard McDermott and William Snyder) Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press (Boston, MA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Etienne Wenger was initially interested in the field of artificial intelligence, earning a Ph.D. in the subject and writing a book on its relation to learning, Artificial Intelligence and Tutoring Systems: Computational and Cognitive Approaches to the Communication of Knowledge. Gradually, he moved away from the study of artificial intelligence but maintained a strong interest in the communication of knowledge. In 1991 he coauthored a study on the social aspects of learning titled Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Focusing on the apprenticeship aspects of learning, Wenger and coauthor Jean Lave stress the integration between learning and group participation. "In developing this argument, Lave and Wenger highlight a number of important phenomena that are routinely ignored by the 'learning is something that happens in the head' perspective. They demonstrate, for example, that learning is happening all the time, not just in pedagogical settings," noted Edwin Hutchins in American Anthropologist. For Wenger and Lave, the development from novice to expert is closely bound up with the transition from newcomer to veteran within the community. To demonstrate this, they study not only the apprenticeships of Yucatec midwives and Liberian quartermasters, but also the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. MAN reviewer Maurice Bloch commended Situated Learning as "a thought-provoking book, very clearly written, which will be useful in teaching and convincing anthropologists of the crucial importance of constructing rigourous theories for studying the transmission of knowledge in society." Similarly, American Ethnologist contributors Eugene Matusov, Nancy Bell, and Barbara Rogoff wrote, "We expect that this book will be a landmark in showing the way to reconceptualize individual participation as constituting communities of practice, which at the same time constitute individual participation and attendant learning."
In Wenger's next book, he focuses on communities of practice. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity identifies ways in which corporations can go beyond teams to develop real communities of practitioners who will nourish each other's creativity. For Wenger, the key ingredients are a shared area of expertise, periodic face-to-face interactions, and shared development of practices over time. In this sense, "a community of practice is more than a mere community of interest," he told Information Outlook interviewer Jeff De Cagna. While teams are very task-oriented and tend to dissolve when the task is completed, communities of practice are ongoing, long-term groups built around a shared interest. "You can see why the concept of community of practice is very powerful because, at its core, it is a group of practitioners who have taken on the responsibility of managing knowledge in their domain," Wenger told de Cagna.
In 2002 Wenger coauthored Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, in which he "moves from theory to practice, and argues that communities of practice—when managed correctly—can be the key driver of organizational success," in the words of a Research-Technology Management contributor. The book introduces a number of real-world examples drawn from Wenger's work with the World Bank, DaimlerChrysler, Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and other large organizations. "Although some of the concepts and structures presented are more complex than necessary . . . the book is inspiring," wrote Technology & Development reviewer Amy Newman.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Anthropologist, September, 1993, Edwin Hutchins, review of Situated Learning, pp. 743-744.
American Ethnologist, November, 1994, Eugene Matusov, Nancy Bell, and Barbara Rogoff, review of Situated Learning, pp. 918-919.
Information Outlook, July, 2001, Jeff De Cagna, interview with Etienne Wenger, p. 6.
MAN, June, 1994, Maurice Bloch, review of Situated Learning, p. 487.
Research-Technology Management, March-April, 2002, review of Cultivating Communities of Practice, p. 60.
Training & Development, February, 2002, Amy Newman, review of Cultivating Communities of Practice, p. 83.*