Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation
Cold, so cold. The wind shrieked across the ice and I pulled
myself a little closer. Cold, so cold! What happened to the days of diving and
eating? Those halcyon days seemed gone forever. Lost and alone, I continued
across the ice. The wind abated for a moment and in the distance I saw the dark
mass. I didn't know what it was, but it was better than the endless white and
gray I had been enduring.
As I drew closer I saw it was a large group of people like
me, packed together but milling about and I could hear a low hubbub. I
increased my pace and soon I was huddled on the outside, pressing against the
person in front. I desperately wanted to get warm but I couldn't push in. The
hubbub had increased somewhat, but I couldn't hear individual words.
“Hey, buddy, you look like you’re new here.” I turned my
head towards the voice, grateful that I could finally understand something. I
nodded in agreement to the fellow next to me who was looking at me expectantly.
He continued, “It seems really confusing at first, but let me give you some
That was the best news I had heard in days! I used the most
polite language I knew, "Yes, sir, that would really be nice. Thank you,
“Okay, to move in, it's two separate steps. First, you have
to get the attention of the person most directly in front by telling them which
side you want to pass. They will then move a little the other direction. Second,
you make your move. That’s when you suck in your gut, turn half-way, and sidle
through. Like this.” He pressed against the person in front of him, and I heard
him murmur, “Left, please.” And he just disappeared! I had seen no sign of
movement or any other indication.
My heart sank and I was still cold. Then, he reappeared
where he had been standing. “I know, it looks like magic at first, but you’ll
get the hang of it. Here, I’ll do it again more slowly. Hey, Bob!” At those
words the person in front turned his neck. “We have a new fellow here who needs
to learn the steps. Can you help me show him how to pass?”
“Sure!” replied Bob. For the next little while they showed
me what to do and then I practiced. After a bit, the technique started to sink
in. I wasn’t nearly as good as my guides, but I could move in and out without
getting my feet stepped on.
Time passed. As it did, my new friends and I separated, but
I met and talked with many people in the crowd. Each seemed to have a bit of
advice or a new technique for me to try. People were very forgiving of the many
mistakes I made and I gradually got better. And then it dawned on me—I wasn’t
cold anymore, I was warm! But by now I also knew that I had to take my turn on
the outside every so often.
I slowly swirled to the outside, then back in. I marveled at
how much I had learned since my arrival and how easy it seemed now. I got
together with a couple of others, Corky and Sinker, and we worked out a more
efficient way to make the half-back three-quarters-right orbit pirouette.
Others were eager to learn this new technique and we were happy to show them. A
couple of them even came up with refinements on web positioning.
After swirling out and in a few times, I found myself on the
outside, ready to start in, when I noticed the new fellow. He was somewhat
bedraggled, looking tired, alone, and cold. He was trying to push in, but
obviously he didn’t know how. I said, "Hey, buddy, you look like you’re
new here." He turned his head towards me, his eyes looking grateful. He
nodded in agreement and waited expectantly. I continued, "It seems really
confusing at first, but let me give you some pointers."
He replied, "Yes, sir, that would really be nice. Thank
you, sir." And that’s when it hit me! We were engaged in LPP—Legitimate
I wrote this story as an attempt to make sense of Lave and Wenger's
Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral
Participation. The concept of the penguins just popped into my head when
they were explaining that even though the participation was peripheral, there
really wasn't a true center.
Derrel Fincher, September 2001