The Learning Community

“Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).”

Karen Stephenson, “The Organization Woman.”

Growing up in the 80’s, I was taught by the quintessential lecturer.

Whether in a classroom or on the back of the horse, my instructor spoke and I listened.

In discussion, they asked questions of each person in the class.

And we answered, each individually. I cannot even recall a teacher asking me what I thought of another student’s answer.

I had a dialogue with them, in front of the class.

We, as learners, were not allowed to actively participate in our peer’s learning.

Today… the Community of Practice…

…a concept first proposed by cognitive anthropologistJean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book Situated Learning (Lave & Wenger 1991), is now being leveraged both in the classroom during problem/project-based learning as well as by World Bank Group’s Community-Driven Development Group on nearly 200 projects tackling the most difficult issues facing humanity today (to the tune of almost $20B).

The work that Wenger and his colleagues started in 2000 was eventually turned into a book, “Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities” (Etienne WengerNancy White, ‎John D. Smith. 2009,Retrieved from which is a great read on “digital habitats.” I find it difficult to comprehend how many are still at the discovery stage regarding their findings from a decade ago. Ah, the Titanic.

Why do I bring it up?

‎Because I think we, as leaders and as LX Designers speaking to leaders, overlook the amount of research that exists out there about the ‘why’ of what we are attempting to accomplish while creating a learning environment and we should get better at telling that story. Why IS gamification NOT always the best way to steward technology use in training? Perhaps simply because there may be some more robust and appropriate options available. It takes some long term research/planning to discover and design for a LX, and not just a knee jerk reaction to trends.

Learning is coming from all directions > not a trend, a reality.

“There is a need for us to have multiple mentors with expertise in various domains… [it is]…possible for aspiring leaders to hone their craft from the very best experts in many domains via the internet or knowledge management (KM) systems.” (Ilyr, Murphy. 2016)

LONG gone are the days that we can rely on one ‘mountain-high guru’s knowledge’. The line between student, peer, and mentor is blurring. As we individually jump forward with each bit of knowledge we gain we are constantly becoming mentor while remaining student amongst our peers.

In the future, add in a dose of machine learning, and this will be amplified…but we aren’t there yet.

Adapted from – Tuomi, Ilkka (2018). Editors: Cabrera, Marcelino; Vuorikari,
Riina; Punie, Yves. “The impact of Artificial Intelligence on learning, teaching, and education.” Retrieved from:

Organizations need to be clear on their understanding of how to effectively leverage their digital landscape to enable AND track peer to peer learning relationships (knowledge sharing, what is most effective?) in order to stay competitive now and in the future.


(DISCLAIMER – I have knowingly taken liberties in slaughtering APA and using inline references for ease of use for the reader. Please excuse.)

Wenger, Etienne (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66363-2L

Lave, JeanWenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-42374-0.; first published in 1990 as Institute for Research on Learning report 90-0013

“Community-Driven Development – A Year in Review – FY18”, World Bank Group (2018); Retrieved from

Ilyr, Bylar; Murphy, Wendy (2016). “The Benefits of Virtual Mentors.” Harvard Business Review, 87(2), 43-49.

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