U3:A1 Adopting a Theoretical Framework



Photo by William White on Unsplash
Photo by William White on Unsplash

For the focus of my applied research project (ARP), I am leaning toward the adoption of a social constructivist lens as the broader framework to guide my research. The idea that learning can occur through meaningful social interactions with others (Dron & Anderson, 2014) underpins my interest in how a community of practice (CoP) model might contribute to organizational learning and employee development. Assumptions around social constructivism perceive reality as a social invention, knowledge creation as a product of meaningful and authentic interactions, and that learning is a social process (Kim, 2001). A CoP model is reliant on the social process of learning and situating that learning in an authentic context with individuals who participate in this process together.

Situated learning which emerged from Lave and Wenger’s (1991) seminal research around group interactions disputes that learning is not only about receiving information, rather according to Lave and Wenger it is fostered by increased participation in a CoP (as cited in Smith, Hayes, & Shea, 2017). Situated learning revolves around the notion of authentic learning situations that involve a social community to create meaningful learning (Northern Illinois University, n.d.). To this end, social constructivists view individuals “and the social society as interconnected…[and] assert that learners arrive at what they know mainly through participating in the social practices of a learning environment” (Woo & Reeves, 2006, p. 18). Given the emphasis of social and collaborative learning, situated learning, authentic tasks, and problem-solving which are all tenets of social constructivism (Dron & Anderson, 2014), I see this framework as a strong fit for my research. However, I am wondering if for the purposes of the ARP it might help to narrow in on a specific social constructivist framework? Activity Theory is one of those frameworks I am considering.

Activity Theory (AT) is associated with social constructivism (Dron & Anderson, 2014) and “focuses on the interaction of human activity and consciousness (the human mind as whole) within its relevant environmental context” (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999, p. 62). Since I will be examining how the practice and context of a CoP might impact learning and knowledge transfer in the workplace, AT might help in analyzing the relationships between the community, domain and practice that make up a CoP. From what I have learned in preliminary research around AT, activity comes before learning and that it is the activity of doing that provides this learning (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999). At this point, I have only touched on the tip of Activity Theory, so I am uncertain of its fit with my research topic. I would welcome any insights you might share on your familiarity with Activity Theory, and if you see its usefulness in supporting my examination of the Community of Practice model. Any suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Thank you!


Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Edmonton, AB: AU Press, Athabasca University. Retrieved from http://klangable.com/uploads/books/99Z_Dron_Anderson-Teaching_Crowds.pdf

Jonassen, D., & Rohrer-Murphy, L. (1999). Activity theory as a framework for designing constructivist learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development47(1), 61-79. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF02299477.pdf

Kim, B. (2001). Social constructivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://www.fp.utm.my/websim/doct/Social%20constructivism.pdf

Northern Illinois University, (n.d.). Situated learning. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/strategies/situated_learning.pdf

Smith, S. U., Hayes, S., & Shea, P. (2017). A critical review of the use of Wenger’s community of practice (CoP) theoretical framework in online and blended learning research, 2000-2014. Online Learning, (21)1, 209-237. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i1.963

Woo, Y., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. Internet and Higher Education10(1), 15–25. doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.10.005

5 thoughts on “U3:A1 Adopting a Theoretical Framework”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post Mel. Sounds like you’re diving deep into social anthropology on this one. I found a pretty interesting resource spanning various frameworks about communities, networking, and interactions (Conole, Galley, & Culver, 2011). From my meager research and understanding it seems that Activity Theory is context sensitive (Lewis, 1997) and yet can be transferred to a “professional context” (p. 213). Although, this resource is from an academic standpoint the research about Online Communities of Practice (oCoP), oCoPs are not dissimilar from CoIs and focuses on how online communities share knowledge and understanding among teaching professionals (Baran & Cagiltay, 2010).
    In the end I’m missing a lot of the nuanced specifics about your community context so I can’t dive much deeper than that.

    Conole, G., Galley, R., & Culver, J. (2011). Frameworks for understanding the nature of interactions, networking, and community in a social networking site for academic practice. The international review of research in open and distributed learning, 12(3), 119-138.
    Lewis, R. (1997). An Activity Theory framework to explore distributed communities. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 13(4), 210-218.
    Baran, B., & Cagiltay, K. (2010). The dynamics of online communities in the activity theory framework. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(4), 155-166.

    1. Hi Alastair – you hit it on the nail about the “context sensitive” aspect of Activity Theory, so I think it could lend itself to a professional context as you mentioned. I have been struggling with understanding the whole triangular model associated with activity theory, and trying to imagine how I would use it. I really appreciate the great resources you shared. I look forward to reading them more in depth – thank you!

  2. Hi Mel,

    I thought you made some strong arguments as to how your research fits within a possible theoretical framework of social constructivism.

    To further solidify this fit, I came across Gunawardena et al. (2009)’s paper that proposes a theoretical framework as a foundation for building communities of practice – which directly relates to your research. This paper provides a strong support for your choice to use social constructivism as a theoretical framework for research on CoPs, as Gunawaderna (2009) states that, according to Vygotsky (1978, as cited in Gunawardena, 2009) and Wertsch (1991, as cited in Gunawardena, 2009), socioculturalism and social constructivism are the foundation for understanding learning in CoPs (p.8).

    Also conveniently, the section on page 8 within this paper also goes into further details into activity theory, which I know you are interested in investigating further to see if it’s a fit for your research.

    Hoping this is helpful, if you hadn’t already come across it to use for your theoretical framework section in Assignment 2. Best of luck in determining your framework.

    Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Sanchez, D., Richmond, C., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009). A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, 46(1), 3-16.

    1. Hi Nicolette – Thank you for your feedback and great find on the Gunawardena article! I will take a further look – I am working on my TF tonight and tomorrow, so this will be a big help!

      1. Hi Mel, I’m definitely hoping it will help and it was great learning about other TFs that may relate to my research through your post. – Nicolette

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