Landscapes of practice and wicked problems

I’ve recently been reading a book called Learning in Landscapes of Practice by Etienne Wenger and colleagues. I think this book presents a useful shift in metaphor away from the notion of ‘communities of practice’ from Wenger’s earlier work. The idea of landscapes of practice is that we all of us in our professional lives move across diverse communities and multiple boundaries in our own particular trajectories. I find this idea works better for me when thinking about teaching wicked problems than the narrower communities of practice metaphor.

When we think about learning in relation to communities of practice, we tend to emphasise how the learner moves from peripheral to deeper participation in one community with its particular norms, values and practices. Life is more complex than this, especially when we are working on wicked problems. Thinking about moving across a landscape lets us think about multiple possible paths, different kinds of boundaries and experiences of getting lost! As Wenger and colleague put it (p.2):

“The metaphor of a landscape ensures that we pay attention to boundaries, to our multimembership in different communities and to the challenges we face as our personal trajectories take us through multiple communities”.

As well as introducing the idea of landscapes of practice, Wenger and colleagues introduce the distinction between ‘competence’ and ‘knowledgeability’. Competence is being able to understand and practice well within one community. Knowledgeability is the capacity to work well, collaborate and be understood across multiple communities. I think this distinction is important, as those working across multiple communities might feel deskilled or less able when they have less time to devote to the practices of a single community. Yet their knowledgeability is crucial to working well with wicked problems.

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