Learning and Socio-cultural Theory: Exploring Modern Vygotskian Perspectives International Workshop 2007


This paper presents an argument for the application of Wenger’s (1998) theory of a community of practice to develop understanding of the learning that occurs in early-career police. The focus of this research is on the ways that early career police learn the craft of policing. Early career police are defined as police in their first three years of service. This definition is formed from the general requirements of the New South Wales Police for the completion of one year probation and two further years as a general duties constable prior to application to transfer or specialise. During the probation year police officers continue to undertake further formal university-based study. Police learning experiences will be investigated using Lave and Wenger’s social theory of learning and the notion of communities of practice, applied within a para-military police culture. The argument is that a community of practice can be used to explore, and better understand, the impact of field experience on the learning of police post their compulsory recruit training. At present there is only a few studies of this issue, such as Chan et al. (2003), Fielding (1988) and van Maanen (1978); these studies tend to cease at the conclusion of the probation year, are not set within the recent context of a university provided education, as is the case in New South Wales, and there exists no research applying community of practice theory in this context. It is intended that in exploring the learning and socialisation process, this research will contribute to the understanding and realisation of professionalism in policing, facilitate the improved design of the Associate Degree in Policing Practice (ADPP) and lead to better understanding of how police learn to be police, thus contributing to the design of training and education that can target their development.

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