A social practice theory of learning and becoming across contexts and time

William R. Penuel, Daniela K. Digiacomo, Katie Van Horne, Ben Kirshner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This paper presents a social practice theory of learning and becoming across contexts and time. Our perspective is rooted in the Danish tradition of critical psychology (Dreier, 1997; Mørck & Huniche, 2006; Nissen, 2005), and we use social practice theory to interpret the pathway of one adolescent whom we followed as part of a longitudinal study of interest-related learning. A social practice theory calls out the ways people pursue diverse concerns, become aware of new possibilities for action as they move across settings of practice, and learn as they adjust contributions to the flow of ongoing activity and to fit demands and structures of local institutions. It also highlights the ways that existing institutional structures of practice frame the choices people make about how and where to participate in activities. This perspective on learning is potentially transformative, in that it provides a way to promote equity by surfacing issues associated with linkages among settings of practice, networks of actors who support persons’ movement across settings, and diversities in structures of practices that shape opportunities to learn and become.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-38
Number of pages9
JournalFrontline Learning Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 26 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For the duration of the study, Jerome was a participant in a program called Pathways into Science (also a pseudonym) at a science museum in a large city in the U.S. West. The museum’s program is like many others in large science museums across the country that provide learning opportunities to youth from groups that are underrepresented in science. It is funded by a variety of private foundations and individual donors. Youth participants must attend public schools in the city where the museum is located, be enrolled as a ninth or tenth grader, and commit to meeting the attendance requirements year-round and over multiple years for which the youth are eligible. The program is run as a paid internship in which youth serve as docents for the museum visitors and have opportunities to contribute to science investigations led by resident scientists.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction. All rights reserved.


  • Agency
  • Equity
  • Learning
  • Social practice theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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