Posted by: Michael Atkisson | October 17, 2010

Cognition and Legitimate Peripheral Participation

A community of practice (CoP) is a community of individuals who socially negotiate identity and meaning through the shared development of practice. Jean Lave sees legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) as the way that newcomers become old-timers in the CoP through apprenticeship (1991). The change in identity occurs through two principle mechanisms: acculturation and transformation. As newcomers participate in the practices of the community they become accustomed to the way things are done and the meaning of consequences of actions.  As they develop greater appreciation and understanding of the practices they transform their identities to ones of more full, community participants.

Breaking LPP down is also helpful in understanding the term. Legitimate means membership in the CoP. Newcomers may not yet be full participants but they are legitimately there. Peripheral is less obvious in that it does not signal a set periphery and center to the CoP, but instead speaks to the starting point of understanding and skill of the newcomers. Participation refers to doing the work of the CoP.

LPP relates to learning in that it is the transformation of identity as the newcomer becomes more conversant and skillful in the practices of the CoP. This is a very different view of learning than, let’s say, the information processing (IP) metaphor. IP assumes that the world is an objective set of information that can be inputted through the senses, to be filtered and associated with prior knowledge. Long-term, and to some extent short-term memory can be drawn upon for future use.

IP assumes the individual mind is the unit of analysis in learning, which often leads to other assumptions such as understandings can be imported into the mind out of context. In school, for example, children learn about many things without much exposure to the environment in which those things are used and understood.  Instead of a deep, relational understanding of how those things create identity through the negotiation of meaning, the artifacts are removed from context and become opaque concepts and potentially inert, separated from the CoP that give them meaning. The result of this type of learning, which is common in schools, makes it difficult to form identity beyond that of a school student, which causes an inauthentic relationship and lack of sense of ownership with the learning that transpires, which is very unlike the transformation in identity that a newcomer in a CoP would experience thorough ever increasing skillfulness with which he or she would participate in an authentic, socially mediated practice.


Lave, J. (1991). Chapter 4: SITUATING LEARNING IN COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE. In Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 63-82). American Psychological Association.

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