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Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice

  • Textbook
  • © 2010


  • The book brings together some potentially powerful ideas about social and systemic change and how people do and can work and learn together for their mutually agreed purposes. The combination of classical and contemporary ideas sets it apart.
  • It uses the language of ‘social learning systems’ as distinct from social learning or learning systems which appear elsewhere.
  • It approaches social learning from a ‘systems’ perspective, using a range of systems concepts and theories explicitly.

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About this book

Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice is a collection of classical and contemporary writing associated with learning and systemic change in contexts ranging from cities, to rural development to education to nursing to water management to public policy. It is likely to be of interest to anyone trying to understand how to think systemically and to act and interact effectively in situations experienced as complex, messy and changing. While mainly concerned with professional praxis, where theory and practice inform each other, there is much here that can apply at a personal level.

This book offers conceptual tools and suggestions for new ways of being and acting in the world in relation to each other, that arise from both old and new understandings of communities, learning and systems. Starting with twentieth century insights into social learning, learning systems and appreciative systems from Donald Schön and Sir Geoffrey Vickers, the book goes on to consider the contemporary traditions of critical social learning systems and communities of practice, pioneered by Richard Bawden and Etienne Wenger and their colleagues. A synthesis of the ideas raised, written by the editor, concludes this reader. The theory and practice of social learning systems and communities of practice appear to have much to offer in influencing and managing systemic change for a better world.

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Table of contents (12 chapters)

  1. Early Traditions of Social Learning Systems

  2. Critical Social Learning Systems – The Hawkesbury Tradition


From the reviews:

“This collection of essays, starting with the work of Donald Schön and Geoffrey Vickers, and concluding with the work of Richard Bawden and Etienne Wenger among other contemporaries, is brought together by Chris Blackmore, senior lecturer in environmental and developmental systems at the Open University. It is appropriate for a seminar in communities of practice (CoP) or learning theory. … This is appropriate for a novice reader.” (Brad Reid, ACM Computing Reviews, March, 2011)

Editors and Affiliations

  • The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

    Chris Blackmore

About the editor

Chris Blackmore is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Development Systems at the Open University. She develops open learning courses in systems and in environmental decision making at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Her main research area, in which she has a range of publications, is in learning systems and communities of practice for environmental decision making, including issues of social learning, systems thinking, systemic change, sustainability and responsibility.

Bibliographic Information

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