Wenger E.. 2000. Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization . 7


Describes the organisation that is designing itself as a social learning system.

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Key Findings: 

Successful organisations design themselves as social learning systems internally and externally. In this article these social learning systems are defined and explored, and ‘modes of belonging’ in relation to participation are proposed. This framework is used to analyse communities of practice, boundary processes and the shaping of identities in the process of participation. The social learning system is relevant across multiple scales including individuals, communities of practice, organisations and organisational networks. For organisations operating within social learning systems, many of the traditional management practices involving business efficiency are no longer relevant given that attempts at control are no longer acceptable. However, the new knowledge economy being created does encourage and reward informal processes where communication, exchange of new and novel ideas, and innovation are the source of value creation. Flexibility, participation and organising for complexity are fundamental elements driving an organisation that is designing itself as a social learning system.


This article directly connects organisations to social learning systems. In these systems, organisations often need to develop new modes of operation. Formal organisational processes still have their place in relevant circumstances and contexts. However, the need to embrace other informal processes to enhance communication, the generation of new ideas, and trust are essential. This article provides insights for leaders and all levels of organisational management who are attempting to shape their organisation into these broader social learning systems.