Communities of Practice LO27134

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 08/10/01

Replying to LO27115 --

Dear Organlearners,

Don Dwiggins <> writes:

>Two questions come to mind:
>- Do communities (of practice) learn, or is it just the
>individuals in them that learn?
>- Can a community of practice be considered an
>organization? Is it useful to do so?

Greetings dear Dwig,

Your first question involves an astounding complexity. Answers to it will
differ depending on how much complexity is allowed.

Some will say that whenever ALL the individuals in a group are learners,
the group itself is also a learner. They employ a logical inference which
is known as Universal Generalisation.

Others will say exactly the opposite. The group cannot inherit a property
common to some of its individuals. At most every individual can have this
property. They employ a logical inference which is known as Existential

These two inferences are the two problematic ones of the four inferences
of Quantified Logic. They are problematic because of the so-called
"unfree" requirement placed upon the symbolic form of the argumentation
from the premiss to the conclusion. (Study a book on 1st order logic to
see what I mean ;-) However, we know that humans will choose freely even
when forced to conform. Thus human nature defies quantification arguments.
Perhaps this the reason why one of the two inferences above is accepted
and the other denied.

As a result of humans having the ability to choose freely, we have to
increase our scope beyond Quantification Logic when thinking on learners.
The way in which I do it, is to consider the learning of the group to be
different to the learning of the individuals. It is like exploring the
differences between the chemistry of atoms and the chemistry of molecules
(groups) of atoms. It is also like exploring the differences between the
life of individual plants and the life of a community of plants. In all
cases some properties emerge for the group which the individuals of that
group do not have.

Perhaps my best example is the capacity to create language. Individuals
cannot create a language. Only a group of people can do so.

Dwig, as for your second question, it depends on how we define an
organisation. If an organisation is defined as legal entitity, then I
think it is not possible. Communities of Practice are usually informally
organised. However, I myself do not view only formalised institutions as
organisations. For example, a flea market is informally just as much an
organisation as a formal supermarket. I also think that within large
formal organisations a lot of informal organisation often happens. It is
sometimes this very informal organisation (with the learning which goes
with it) within the formal organisation which prevents it from collapsing.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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