A Critical Review of the Use of Wenger's Community of Practice (CoP) Theoretical Framework in Online and Blended Learning Research, 2000-2014

Sedef Uzuner Smith, Suzanne Hayes, Peter Shea


After presenting a brief overview of the key elements that underpin Etienne Wenger’s communities of practice (CoP) theoretical framework, one of the most widely cited and influential conceptions of social learning, this paper reviews extant empirical work grounded in this framework to investigate online/blended learning in higher education and in professional development. The review is based on integrative research approaches, using quantitative and qualitative analysis, and includes CoP oriented research articles published between 2000 and 2014. Findings are presented under three questions: Which research studies within the online/blended learning literature made central use of the CoP framework? Among those studies identified, which ones established strong linkages between the CoP framework and their findings? Within this last group of identified studies, what do the patterns in their use of the CoP framework suggest as opportunities for future research in online teaching and learning?


community of practice, Wenger, online and blended learning.

Full Text:



References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the group of 41 in which CoP theory was used in a substantive way. Two asterisks indicate studies included in the final group of 17 in which there was a strong linkage between CoP theory and analysis/findings.

**Adams, J. N. P. (2007). Artists becoming teachers: Expressions of identity transformation in a virtual forum goldsmiths research online artists becoming teachers: Expressions of identity transformation in a virtual forum. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 23(6), 264—273.

*Amrein-Beardsley, A., Foulger, T. S., & Toth, M. (2007). Examining the development of a hybrid degree program: Using student and instructor data to inform decision-making. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(4), 331.

Amin, A. & Roberts, J. (2008). Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice. Research Policy, 37, 353—369.

*Annese, S., & Traetta, M. (2009). Psychosocial dynamics of blended communities: participating and positioning in learning contexts. Open and Interdisciplinary Journal of Technology, Culture and Education, 4(2), 90—106. http://www.ckbg.org/qwerty/index.php/qwerty/article/viewArticle/59

Bates, J. S., & Taylor, A. C. (2013). Taking stock of theory in grandparent studies. In Mark A. Fine and Frank D. Fincham (Eds). Handbook of family theories (pp. 51-70). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

**Baxter, J., & Haycock, J. (2014). Roles and student identities in online large course forums: Implications for practice. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(1), 21—40. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1593

*Beckett, G. H., Amaroâ€Jiménez, C., & Beckett, K. S. (2010). Students’ use of asynchronous discussions for academic discourse socialization. Distance Education, 31(3), 315—335. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.513956

**Brosnan, K., & Burgess, R. C. (2003). Web based continuing professional development — A learning architecture approach. Journal of Workplace Learning, 15(1), 24—33. doi: 10.1108/13665620310458794

*Cesareni, D., Martini, F., & Mancini, I. (2011). Building a community among teachers, researchers and university students: A blended approach to training. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 6(4), 625—646. doi: 10.1007/s11412-011-9126-8

*Chang, C. K., Chen, G. D., & Li, L. Y. (2008). Constructing a community of practice to improve coursework activity. Computers & Education, 50(1), 235—247. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2006.05.003

**Clarke, L. (2009). The POD model: Using communities of practice theory to conceptualise student teachers’ professional learning online. Computers & Education, 52(3), 521—529. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2008.10.006

*Conrad, D. L. (2008). From community to community of practice: Exploring the connection of online learners to informal learning in the workplace. American Journal of Distance Education, 22(1), 3—23. doi: 0.1080/08923640701713414

**Correia, A., & Davis, N. (2008). Intersecting communities of practice in distance education: the program team and the online course community. Distance Education, 29(3), 289—306. doi: 10.1080/01587910802395813

Consalvo, A. L., Schallert, D. L., & Elias, E. M. (2015). An examination of the construct of legitimate peripheral participation as a theoretical framework in literacy research. Educational Research Review, 16, 1—18. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2015.07.001

Cousin, G., & Deepwell, F. (2005). Designs for network learning: a communities of practice perspective. Studies in Higher Education, 30(1), 57—66. doi: 10.1080/0307507052000307795

*Cowan, J. (2012). Strategies for developing a community of practice: Nine years of lessons learned in a hybrid technology education master’s program. TechTrends, 56(1), 12—18. doi: 10.1007/s11528-011-0549-x

**Cowan, J. E., & Menchaca, M. P. (2014). Investigating value creation in a community of practice with social network analysis in a hybrid online graduate education program. Distance Education, 35(1), 43—74. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2014.893813

**Crossard, B. and Pyror, J. (2008). Becoming researchers: A sociocultural perspective on assessment, learning and the construction of identity in a professional doctorate. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 16(3), 221—237.

*Egan, J. P. (2013). Learning community or community of practice: Preliminary findings of a transfer of learning study. Issues in Information Science and Information Technology, 10, 137-144.

**Ellaway, R., Dewhurst, D., & McLeod, H. (2004). Evaluating a virtual learning environment in the context of its community of practice. Alt-J, 12(2), 125—145. doi: 10.1080/0968776042000216192

**Evans, C., Yeung, E., Markoulakis, R., & Guilcher, S. (2014). An online community of practice to support evidence-based physiotherapy practice in manual therapy. The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 34(4), 215—23. doi:10.1002/chp.21253

Farnsworth, V., Kleanthous, I., & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2015). Communities of practice as a social theory of learning: A conversation with Etienne Wenger. British Journal of Educational Studies, p. 1-22. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1080/00071005.2015.1133799

Foucault, M. (1985). The use of pleasure: History of sexuality. New York, NY: Vintage.

Gee, J. P. (2005). Affinity spaces: From age of mythology to today's schools. In D. Barton, & K. Tusting, Beyond communities of practice: Language power and social context (pp. 214-232). New York: Cambridge University Press.

**Goggins, S. P., Laffey, J., & Gallagher, M. (2011). Completely online group formation and development: Small groups as socioâ€technical systems. Information Technology & People, 24(2), 104—133. doi: 10.1108/09593841111137322

Grant, C., & Osanloo, A. (2014). Understanding, selecting, and integrating a theoretical framework in dissertation research: creating the blueprint for your “house.” Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, 14(2), 12-26. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2003.00051.x

**Gray, B. (2004). Informal learning in an online community of practice. Journal of Distance Education, 19(1), 20—35. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ807836

**Guldberg, K., & Pilkington, R. (2006). A community of practice approach to the development of non-traditional learners through networked learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(3), 159—171. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2006.00171.x

**Guldberg, K., & Mackness, J. (2009). Foundations of communities of practice: Enablers and barriers to participation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(6), 528—538. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00327.x

*Henderson, M. (2007). Sustaining online teacher professional development through community design. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 24(3), 162—173. doi: 10.1108/10650740710762202

Henri, F. & Pudelko, (2003). Understanding and analyzing activity and learning in virtual communities. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19, 474-487.

*Hodges, T. E., & Cady, J. (2012). Blended-format professional development and the emergence of communities of practice. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(2), 299—316. doi: 10.1007/s13394-012-0065-0

Holsti, O. (1969). Content analysis for social sciences and humanities. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

*Hough, B., Smithey, M., & Evertson, C. (2004). Using computer-mediated communication to create virtual communities of practice for intern teachers. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 12(3), 361—386.

*Kayler, M., & Weller, K. (2007). Pedagogy, self-assessment, and online discussion groups. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 10(1), 136-147.

Kilbourn, B. (2006). The qualitative doctoral dissertation proposal. Teachers College Record, 108 (4), 529-576.

Larreamendy-Joerns, J., & Leinhardt, G. (2006). Going the distance with online education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 567—605

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. London: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.2307/2804509

*Lim, J. H., Dannels, S. A., & Watkins, R. (2008). Qualitative investigation of doctoral students’ learning experiences in online research methods courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 9(3), 223—236.

*Lin, T., Hsu, Y., & Cheng, Y. (2011). Emerging innovative teacher education from situated cognition in a web-based environment. Online Journal of Educational Technology-TOJET, 10(2), 100-112. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ932230

**Mackey, J., & Evans, T. (2011). Interconnecting networks of practice for professional learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(3), 1-18.

*Marken, J. A., & Dickinson, G. K. (2013). Perceptions of community of practice development in online graduate education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 54(October), 299—307.

Mertens, D. M. (1998). Research methods in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative and qualitative approaches. London: Sage.

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York, NY: Free Press.

**Moule, P. (2006). E-learning for healthcare students: Developing the communities of practice framework. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 54(3), 370—80. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03813.x

*Murchu, D. O., & Sorensen, E. K. (2004). Online master communities of practice: Collaborative learning in an intercultural perspective. European Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 2004(1). Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/2004/Identifying_COPs.pdf

**Nelson, G., & Temples, A. L. (2011). Identity construction as nexus of multimembership: Attempts at reconciliation through an online intercultural communication course. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 10(2), 63—82. doi: 10.1080/15348458.2011.563636

*Razak, A. N., Saeed, M., & Ahmad, Z. (2013). Adopting social networking sites (SNSs) as interactive communities among English foreign language (EFL) learners in writing: Opportunities and challenges. English Language Teaching, 6(11), 187—199. doi: 10.5539/elt.v6n11p187

**Rogers, J. (2000). Communities of practice: A framework for fostering coherence in virtual learning communities. Educational Technology & Society, 3(3), 384-392.

*Rohleder, P., Bozalek, V., Carolissen, R., Leibowitz, B., & Swartz, L. (2007). Students’ evaluations of the use of e-learning in a collaborative project between two South African universities. Higher Education, 56(1), 95—107. doi: 10.1007/s10734-007-9091-3

Sandberg, J., & Alvesson, M. (2011). Ways of constructing research questions: Gap-spotting or problematization? Organization, 18(1), 23-44.

*Schrum, L., Burbank, M. D., & Capps, R. (2007). Preparing future teachers for diverse schools in an online learning community: Perceptions and practice. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(3), 204—211. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2007.06.002

**Stacey, E., Smith, P. J., & Barty, K. (2004). Adult learners in the workplace: Online learning and communities of practice. Distance Education, 25(1), 107—123. doi: 10.1080/0158791042000212486

*Stewart, A. R., Harlow, D. B., & DeBacco, K. (2011). Students’ experience of synchronous learning in distributed environments. Distance Education, 32(3), 357—381. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2011.610289

Szmigiel, R., & Lee, D. (2014). Avatars in E-and U-learning. In F. B. M. Neto (Ed.), Technology platform innovations and forthcoming trends in ubiquitous learning (pp. 35-58). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

*Thang, S. M., Hall, C., Murugaiah, P., & Azman, H. (2011). Creating and maintaining online communities of practice in Malaysian Smart Schools: challenging realities. Educational Action Research, 19(1), 87—105. doi: 10.1080/09650792.2011.547724

*Vaughan, N., & Lawrence, K. (2013). ¬ Investigating the role of mobile devices in a blended pre-service teacher education program, Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 43(3), 56—78.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger E. 1998. Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225—246.

Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W. M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review, 78, 139—145. doi:10.1177/0170840603024003909

Wenger E. 2002. Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (2004). Knowledge management as a doughnut. Ivey Business Journal. Retrieved from: http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/knowledge-management-as-a-doughnut/

Wenger, E., White, N., Smith, J.D., Rowe, K. (2005). Technology for communities. In L. Langelier (Ed.), Working, learning and collaborating in a network: Guide to the implementation and leadership of intentional communities of practice (pp. 71—94). Quebec City: CEFIRO. doi:10.1109/ICSMC.2004.1399962

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPSquare.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: The career of a concept. In C. Blackmore (Ed.), Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice (pp. 179—198). London: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-1-84996-133-2

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Heerlen, The Netherlands: Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.

*Yukawa, J. (2010). Communities of practice for blended learning: Toward an integrated model for LIS education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 51(2), 54.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v21i1.963

Copyright (c) 2017 Online Learning Journal