Monday, April 20, 2009

Book: Legitimate peripheral participation

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger: Situated learning - Legitimate peripheral participation. 1991.

In this interesting book, Lave and Wenger builds on five studies of apprenticeship situations (midwives, tailors, quartermasters, butchers and nondrinking alcoholics, to get to a theory of learning. The concept they create and see as key, is (as the title suggests) "legitimate peripheral participation". This has to do with learning by participating in a social practice. The "peripheral" part has to do with the way a person (for instance an apprentice) can have a small, but still significant, role.

There are at least two ways of reading this book. It could be seen as an attempt to discuss ALL learning. Some would, for instance, argue that what you can learn in a classroom is just how to be a student, and that it can not be transferred into the "real" world. By that kind of thinking, it would of course be hard to admit that I could possibly have learnt something from reading a book. More reasonably, I would like to see the book as an attempt to point out some features of ONE KIND OF learning.

Anyway, it is interesting to view the teacher education I am a part of from the point of view offered by this book. For instance, teacher students probably spend as much effort trying to learn the language neccessary to pass our exams (such as "zone of proximal development" or "cognitive conflict") as they do to learn the actual use of the concepts in everyday teaching.

A quick reading of this book of course did not make me fully grasp their ideas, but at least it is a point of departure for later readings.