Etienne Wenger-Trayner

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Personal profile

Research interests

I am interested in developing a theoretical perspective on learning that takes as a fundamental tenet that we are essentially social beings. Even when we are by ourselves, we borrow from our languages and cultures to form thoughts and give meaning to the world. Learning theory is important because it guides how we recognize and support learning. The social learning theory I have been working has influenced research and practice in many disciplines and has inspired organizations across sectors to adopt new approaches to learning.

Scholarly biography

I consider myself a social learning theorist and practitioner. I started my career at a private research institute, the Institute for Research on Learning, where I developed the theoretical foundations for my work in collaboration with scholars such as Jean Lave and Penelope Eckert. When the institute dissolved, I continued my work as an independet, working as a consultant with organizations across different sectors. I also gave lectures and workshops in different universities, but never as an employee. So when I started my part-time position as a professorial fellow at the University of Brighton in January 2016, the experience was a new one for me. It has given me a chance to further my theoretical work, especially the new book I have been writing with my partner and co-author Beverly Wenger-Trayner.

Supervisory Interests

I enjoy working with students who are adopting some of my work as a theoretical framework for their research. Some of the conceptual frameworks are subtle and students benefit from in-depth discussions of how they apply to their context and provide a conceptual perspective for their work. This usually helps them  sharpen the story they are telling about their research and it is very satisfying to be part of this process.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of California at Irvine

Award Date: 1 Nov 1990

External positions

Author and consultant, Self-employed

1 Aug 1997 → …


  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Social learning theory
  • Communities of practice
  • Learning theory


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