Lave and Wenger (1991) propose that the initial participation in a culture of practice can be observation from the periphery or legitimate peripheral participation. The participant moves from the role of observer, as learning and observation in the culture increase, to a fully functioning member. The progressive movement towards full participation enables the learner to piece together the culture of the group and establish their identity.
“Knowing is inherent in the growth and transformation of identities and it is located in relations among practitioners, their practice, the artefacts of that practice, and the social organization…of communities of practice.”(Lave and Wenger, 1991, p 122).
Especially in micro enterprises, SME employees have tended to be isolated from communities of practice. This may be a greater barrier to learning than the lack of time to attend training courses. One of the most powerful uses of ICT for learning in SMEs is the ability to connect to distributed communities of practice. There has been much comment on the phenomenon of ‘lurkers’ on discussion sites, lists servers and bulletin board. Lurking is very much a process of legitimate peripheral participation. Watching, listening and trying to make sense of a series of posts and discussions without being forced to reveal oneself or to actively participate allows the development of knowledge ‘about knowledge’ within a community and about the practices of the on-line community.
Similar to the idea of legitimate peripheral participation is Vygotsky’s (1978) “Zone of Proximinal Development”. This theoretical construct states that learning occurs best when an expert guides a novice from the novice's current level of knowledge to the expert's level of knowledge. Bridging the zone of proximinal development construct with legitimate peripheral participation construct may be accomplished if one thinks of a zone in which the expert or mentor takes the learner from the peripheral status of knowing to a deeper status. This may be accomplished with or without intention as Lave and Wegner (1991) state:
“Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytic viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning. We hope to make it clear that learning through legitimate peripheral participation takes place no matter which educational form provides a context for learning, or whether there is any intentional educational form at all. Indeed, this viewpoint makes a fundamental distinction between learning and intentional instruction (1991, p. 40).”
However, the expert scaffolds the environment to the extent in which the learner is engaged with the discourse and participants within the zone and is drawn from a peripheral status to a more engaged status. The peripheral learner interacts with the mentor, expert learners and peers within this zone. More able learners (peers) or the mentor will work with the less able learner potentially allowing for socially constructed knowledge.

The most compelling argument for the PLE is to develop educational technology which can respond to the way people are using technology for learning and which allows them to themselves shape their own learning spaces, to form and join communities and to create, consume, remix, and share material.

The development and introduction of Personal Learning Environments is not merely a replacement of one generation of educational technology buy a new set of applications. It does not just mean replacing Blackboard or Web CT with ELGG or Mahari or Wordpress or providing tools for mash-ups (welcome though this might be).
Rather, it represents a significant shift in pedagogic approaches to how we support learning processes.
This means a move from seeking to use technology manage learning to encouraging and facilitating wider social learning processes, encouraging and valuing both informal and formal learning and recognising the different contexts in which learning takes place.
Central to such an understanding is placing control of learning in the hands of learners themselves and providing learners with the skills and competences to manage their own learning.