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 Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, Etienne Wenger joined the Institute for Research on Learning, where he developed his new learning theory centered 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.
Etienne’s 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 1980’s. Then in the 1990’s 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. The 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. A new book Digital Hanitats: stewarding technology for communities (co-authored with Nancy White and John Smith) focuses on the ever closer interplay between communities and technology.
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, Etienne’s work is inspiring the knowledge strategy of most leading organizations in both private and public sectors.
Etienne'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.