Etienne Wenger

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Etienne Wenger is the leader of the Community of Practice movement and is also coordinating a CoP of CoPs.

Etienne Wenger’s homepage

Wenger's slideshow on coPs

Etienne Wenger is as a leading expert on communities of practice. He was a pioneer of the "communities of practice" research and is now a globally recognized thought leader in the field. He was featured by Training Magazine in their “A new Breed of Visionaries” series. Etienne’s work is considered seminal to both research and practice in several domains, including business, education, and government.

After working as a teacher for many years and getting a PhD in artificial intelligence, Wenger joined the Institute for Research on Learning, where he developed his new learning theory centred on the concept of community of practice. For the last six years, he has been helping organizations develop and implement knowledge strategies based on communities of practice. He is much sought after as a keynote speaker and workshop leader. He also teaches courses on communities of practice online and is a co-founder and director of CPsquare, a practitioner’s community on communities of practice.

His work has been very influential. In the course of his career, he has provided a seminal conceptual framework for two different fields. His first book on artificial intelligence in education shaped the field known as “intelligent tutoring systems” in the 1980s. Then in the 1990s his work shaped the field of “situated learning” and “communities of practice.” He was the co-author with Jean Lave of Situated Learning, where the term “community of practice” was coined. Building on these original ideas, he later wrote Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, a seminal book that lays out the theory of communities of practice. His work did not remain theoretical, however. A new book, Cultivating Communities of Practice: a Guide to Managing Knowledge (co-authored with Richard McDermott and William Snyder) is addressed to practitioners in organizations and was published by Harvard Business School Press.

In education, this works has inspired a new line of research that focuses on the social nature of learning and its connection to communities, social practice, and identity. In business and government, this work has revolutionized the field of knowledge management. After an initial focus on technology this field is now placing the emphasis on the human aspects of knowledge. Indeed, cultivating communities of practice is increasingly recognized as the most effective way for organizations to address the knowledge challenges they face. It is commonplace to say that people are the most important resource in organizations. Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities in which individuals develop the capacity to create and share knowledge. Communities of practice - properly understood and cultivated - are an organization’s most versatile and dynamic knowledge resource. Today, Wenger's work is inspiring the knowledge strategy of most leading organizations in both private and public sectors.

Wenger's new research project, "Learning for a small planet," is a broad, cross-sectoral investigation of the nature of learning and learning institutions at the dawn of the new millennium. Building on his foundational work on learning theory, this next installment focuses on "multi-scale" learning systems. The idea is that a learning theory for the 21st century cannot be confined by the traditional separation between education, business, and civic domains. Nor can it assume that learning is confined to specific settings or moments in people’s life. Learning has to be understood in the context of multi-scale social systems, which are dynamic constellations of communities of practice and through which learning shapes learners’ identities as life trajectories of multimembership.

Contents

Clients

His clients include the Canadian Center for Management Development, ChevronTexaco, The Copenhagen Business School, DaimlerChrysler, Dresdner Bank, the US Federal Government, Health Canada, Hewlett-Packard, Kimberly-Clark, KPMG, McKinsey, National Semiconductor, P&G, Shell, Sun Microsystems, Tomoye Corporation, and Xerox.

Workshops

He teaches workshops at various universities around the world. Recent tours include:

  • University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • University of Aalborg, Aalborg, Denmark (visiting professor)
  • City University of New York, USA
  • University of Jonkoping, Sweden
  • Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • Durham University, Durham, UK
  • Holland College, Prince Edward Island, CanadaUniversity of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA
  • McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • Macerata University, Macerata, Italy
  • Catholic University, Milan, Italy
  • Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
  • University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
  • George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, USA
  • University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Professional experience

2005 – present: Honorary professor, University of Aalborg, Denmark, School of Humanities

1997 – present: Independent researcher, consultant, author, and speaker.

  • Works with clients to develop and implement knowledge strategies based on communities of practice
  • Helps these clients launch and cultivate communities of practice and develop an internal capability to do so
  • Conducts workshops for senior managers and for professionals on communities of practice, their roles in organizations, and the process of developing them
  • Speaks at professional conferences, conventions, and other public and private events

Teaches online and face-to-face seminars on communities of practice

  • Manages CPsquare, an international community of practice on communities of practice he co-founded
  • Conducts research projects on communities of practice and supporting technologies

1987 – 1997: Research Scientist, Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, California. Took a lead in achieving the research mission of the institute, which was to “rethink learning” from the ground up. Developed a new theory of learning based on the concept of communities of practice and wrote a seminal book about it. Helped major clients of the institute apply these ideas in their organizations. Directed the “retainer” program of the institute, bringing in clients who wanted gain access to the research of the institute through an ongoing affiliation.

1992: Graduate seminar “Learning and communities” (co-taught with Paul Duguid), School of Education, University of California at Berkeley.

1984: Summer course, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” Department of Information and Computer Science, University of California at Irvine.

1983: Summer course, “Introduction to computer science: Problem solving with PASCAL,” Department of Information and Computer Science, University of California at Irvine.

1981 – 1982: Systems analyst, Battelle Institute, Geneva, Switzerland. Developed a statistical package for a major client, including a three-dimensional editor for statistical tables, which was then sold as a general product.

1977 – 1979: Assistant principal and faculty member, Unity School, Denver, Colorado. Coordinated the parent-school relationship program Developed a curriculum for teaching French as a second language. 1974 – 1977: French teacher, Alliance Française, Hong Kong.

Education

1990 Ph. D. in Information and Computer Science, “Toward a theory of cultural transparency: elements of a social discourse of the visible and the invisible.” University of California at Irvine.

1984 M.S. in Information and Computer Science, University of California at Irvine.

1982 B.S. in Computer Science, University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Publications

Books

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1987) Artificial intelligence and tutoring systems: computational and cognitive approaches to the communication of knowledge. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Articles and papers

Wenger, E., Smith, J, and Coenders, M. (2007) Jean Lave. Entry in the Encyclopedia of Classroom Psychology.

Wenger, E. (2005) Communities of practice in 21st-century organizations. Foreword to Guide de mise en place et d'animation de communautés de pratique intentionnelles, CEFRIO, Québec.

Wenger, E., White, N., Smith, J., and Rowe, K. (2005) Technologies for communities. In Guide de mise en place et d'animation de communautés de pratique intentionnelles, CEFRIO, Québec, also available from http://technologyforcommunities.com/CEFRIO_Book_Chapter_v_5.2.pdf

Wenger, E. (2004) Learning for a small planet: a research agenda. Available from the author.

Wenger, E. (2004) Engagement, identity and innovation: Etienne Wenger on communities of practice. An interview by Seth Kahan in the Journal of Association Leadership, January issue.

Wenger, E. (2004) KM is a doughnut: shaping your knowledge strategy through communities of practice. Ivey Business Journal, January-February.

Snyder, W. and Wenger, E. (2004) Our world as a learning system: a communities-or-practice approach. In Clawson, J. and Conner, M. (eds.) Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Practice, and Technology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Snyder W., Wenger, E, and de Sousa Briggs, X. (2003) Communities of practice in government: leveraging knowledge for performance. Public Manager, Volume 32, Number 4, pp. 17-21. Snyder W. and Wenger, E (2003) Communities of practice in government: the case for sponsorship. Report to the CIO Council of the US Federal Government.

Wenger, E. (2003) The Public involvement Community of Practice at Health Canada: a case study. Ottawa: Health Canada, Corporate Consultation Secretariat.

Wenger, E. (2003) KM is a doughnut: shaping your knowledge strategy through communities of practice. Keynote paper. Sydney, Australia: Proceedings of KM 2003.

Wenger, E. (2002) The QB community at Eli Lilly: A community of practice among quantitative biologists at a large pharmaceutical company. Case study written for the BEEP Project of the European Union, www.beep-eu.org, Case 374.

Wenger, E. (2002) Clarica’s Agent Network: A community of practice among independent sales agents who sell the products of a Canadian insurance company. Case study written for the BEEP Project of the European Union, www.beep-eu.org, Case 335.

Wenger, E. (2002) Ayuda Urbana: a constellation of communities of practice focused on urban issues and challenges in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean region. Case study written for the BEEP Project of the European Union, www.beep-eu.org, Case 333. Wenger, E. (2002) On communities of practice. Interview with David Creelman. HR.com, September 2002.

Foote, N., Matson, E., Weiss, L., and Wenger, E. (2002). Leveraging group knowledge for high-performance decision-making. Organizational Dynamics, Volume 31, No. 3.

Wenger, E. (2002) Community Spirit. Expert Voices Interview Series, CIO Insight Magazine, May 2002.

Wenger, E. (2002) Communities of practice. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Volume 1.5, Article 5. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam.

Wenger, E. (2001) Tending the garden of knowledge. An interview with Jeff de Gagna. Information Outlook, July Issue, Vol. 5, no. 7. Washington DC: Special Libraries Association, 6-13.

Wenger, E. (2001) Organically grown. An interview with Ruth Palombo Weiss. T+D Magazine, June Issue, 40-42. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development.

Wenger, E. (2001) Communities of practice. An interview with Ana Neves. www.kmol.online.pt/pessoas.WengerE/entrev_e.html.

Wenger E. (2001) Supporting communities of practice: a survey of community-oriented technologies. Report to the Council of CIOs of the US Federal Government. Self-published at www.ewenger.com/tech.

Stamps, D. (2000) Etienne Wenger: Mr. Communities of Practice. A New Breed of Visionaries Series. Training. November Issue. Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of practice and learning systems. Organization. Volume 7, Number 2, pp. 225-246.

Wenger, E. and Snyder, W. (2000) Communities of practice: the organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review. January-February, pp. 139-145.

Wenger, E. (2000) Communities of practice: stewarding knowledge. In Despres, C. and Chauvel, D. (eds.) Knowledge Horizons: the Present and the Promise of Knowledge. Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston. Wenger, E. (1999) Communities of practice: the key to a knowledge strategy. Knowledge Directions, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 48-63. Reprinted in Lesser, E., Fontaine, M., and Slusher, J. (2000) Knowledge and Communities. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann. Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning as a social system. The Systems Thinker, Vol. 9, No. 5.

Wenger, E. (1996) Communities of practice: the social fabric of the learning organization. HealthCare Forum Journal, July/August, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 20-26.

Thomas, B. (1996) Participation and reification in the design of artifacts - an interview with Etienne Wenger, in Thomas, Fischer and Nilsson (eds.), Learning with artifacts, special issue of AI & Society, Vol. 10, Springer, London

Eckert, P. and Wenger, E. (1994) Transition from school to work: an apprenticeship in institutional identity. Learning and Identity Series, Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, California.

Eckert, P. and Wenger, E. (1994) Burnouts at work. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

Wenger, E. (1992) Learning from apprenticeship: a configural perspective. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco.

Wenger, E. (1992) Living and learning in communities of practice: the case of claim processing. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

Wenger, E. (1992) Work, knowledge, and innovation. Presentation at the Collaboration ‘92 Conference, San Francisco, June 1992.

Wenger, E. (1991) Insurance claim processing: producing processors. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago.

Wenger, E. (1991) Communities of practice: where learning takes place. Benchmark Magazine, Fall Issue.

Wenger, E. (1991) Design for learning and working. Presentation at the Organizational Systems Designers Conference, Washington D.C., June 1991.

Wenger, E. (1990) Toward a theory of cultural transparency: elements of a social discourse of the visible and the invisible. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of California at Irvine, and IRL-Monograph 91-0007

Wenger, E. (1990) Intelligent tutoring systems: beyond expert systems. Int. Journal of Applied Engineering Education. Vol. 6, No. 3.

Lave, J.; and Wenger, E. (1989) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. IRL Report 89-0013. Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, CA.

Wenger, E. (1989) The glass-box project. Project summary. Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, CA.

Hall, R; Kibler, D.; Wenger, E.; and Truxaw, C. (1989) Exploring the episodic structure of algebra problem solving. Cognition and Instruction, Vol. 6, No. 3.

Wenger, E. (1988) Glass-box technology and integrated learning: information, learning and knowledge in computerized environments. (Thesis proposal). IRL Working Paper. Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, CA.

Wenger, E. (1988) Glass-box technology: merging learning and doing. Technology and Learning, Vol. 2, No. 4.

Wenger, E. (1988) Initial thoughts on negotiation and communication: an exercise in epistemological adventurism. IRL Working Paper 21.103. Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, CA.

Wenger, E. (1987) Reflections on learning and teaching: a communication perspective on AI technology. IRL Working Paper 21.102. Institute for Research on Learning, Palo Alto, CA.

Hall, R.; Wenger, E.; Kibler, D.; and Langley, P. (1985) The effects of multiple knowledge sources on learning and teaching. Technical Report 85-11. Information and Computer Science, University of California, Irvine.

Wenger, E. (1982) Principles of human-machine interactions: a full-screen editor for three-dimensional statistical tables. Unpublished B.S. thesis. University of Geneva, Switzerland.