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Adult learners and professional development: peer-to-peer learning in a networked community

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This paper analyses how adult learners on a professional development course learn and develop through online dialogue. The research uses Wenger's community of practice framework, and assesses whether the concept of 'legitimate peripheral participation' is useful in relation to this specific case study in which the students are practitioners and parents of individuals with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The study focuses on peer-to-peer learning and analyses a sample of asynchronous online discussions from three separate online tutorial groups. The first part of the study combines quantitative analysis of distribution patterns, with qualitative discourse analysis that measures central concepts associated with communities of practice. The second part of the study addresses whether the concept of 'legitimate peripheral participation' is useful in this context. The contribution of one key individual in each group is analysed in order to provide a narrative about how that person communicates with the others, shares values and repertoires with them and gradually becomes a central member of the community. The data supports the notion that these forms of interaction and approaches to learning can favour the construction of knowledge and help to develop reflective skills and a sense of 'togetherness' in the group through sharing stories with one another, developing identity through the discussions and through this enabling the development of community. The findings indicate that the learners are provided with opportunities to consider the strengths and weaknesses of ideas from multiple perspectives and that key students play a role in enabling other students to move from a position of legitimate peripheral participation to becoming full members of the community.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Birmingham, UK

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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