In communities, practice and experience are two of the main stays not only of learning but also of action. Talking of communities, Jono Bacon places much importance on such experience, talking of trying new ideas and concepts and learning from the successes and mistakes (Bacon 2009 – Pg17). The word practice also has several meanings, all of them related to action anchored in a specific context.
- Practice can be a way of learning or improving a skill by repeated performance of an activity; practicing the piano, for example.
- Practice can refer to the concrete application of an idea or belief or method in action, for example, the practice of rituals.
- Practice can also be a shared way of doing things, generally within a community of group, where sharing may be by writing, by word of mouth or by emulation. See Wenger (1998) on Communities of Practice.
Practice and experience are often mentioned together. The word experience can refer to the personal involvement in an activity or feeling or the knowledge that the person develops from it. It is the knowledge we are interested in here. Experience is generally acquired by a person over time through action and observation. Much experience is neither formal not explicit. Experience is mostly in our heads, not in books. Practice in all the forms mentioned above is one of the main sources of experience.
Practice and experience are what we rely on most to guide our actions and, in some concrete form or another, they are what are most exchanged between people in communities. Realising that exchange of practice is not only a major source of learning but also of innovation, institutions have sought to stimulate and accelerate such learning by encouraging communities. Their efforts have not always been successful as the formalised logic of institutions doesn’t always sit well with communities. In addition, advocates of accelerating learning talk of ‘best practice’, forgetting that practice is always rooted in a specific context. What works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another. And practice cannot be easily transferred from one context to another. Adaptation and transformation are often necessary. Practice resists generalisation. Going even further, we could say that practice naturally resists theory. Experience resists theory as well. There are many accounts in history that point to efforts of the defenders of theory to override experience. Witch hunts being a bloody example of forced compliance and Brave New Worlds another.