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Keywords:

  • communities of practice;
  • Cpsquare;
  • Etienne Wenger;
  • learner experiences;
  • online learning communities;
  • peripheral participation;
  • Web 2.0 technologies

Abstract

This research draws upon community of practice theory to explore the factors that enabled or hindered participation in an online ‘Foundations of Communities of Practice’ workshop – a course that is designed to align with Wenger's communities of practice perspective. The research used a mixed methods approach, drawing upon log-on and posting data, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to explore participant experiences. The findings show that five dimensions either enabled or constrained participation. These were emotion, technology, connectivity, understanding norms and learning tensions. As enablers these dimensions led to successful participation within an online community of practice, but as constraints, they led to peripheral participation. The findings highlight implications for tutors of such courses. These include the need to (1) assess the technical expertise of participants, particularly when a number of different technological tools are used; (2) find ways to identify and evaluate emotional responses so learners can be supported in managing these; (3) ensure that participants understand the norms of a community; and (4) develop clear induction materials and processes.