If School Elements - 101 – Situated Learning

he premise behind this learning theory is pretty basic, but fundamental: the situation in which we learn something determines how we learn it.

Take for example learning a language. If you are learning a language in a classroom setting, you may learn the language very well for that situation. You can master the tests given to you, recall words as the flashcards pop up instantly, and work through conjugations like a pro. It just doesn’t translate into real life. You may hear the same language spoken by two native speakers, and despite understanding snippets here and there you are effectively unable to strike up a conversation. Compare this to a learning environment that is situated… a backpacking trip through a country where every phrase helps you survive and thrive in the languages native environment.

It doesn’t stop a languages though. Anything that can be learned is best learned when situated. 

Some topics and courses naturally favor being situated more than others. Science uses labs to uncover complex concepts, emulating the processes a Scientist would take to reach similar conclusions. However, other topics fail to situate the learning completely. If School recognizes the need to bring everything into an authentic space, so we prescribe to situated learning across the board.

The Fundamentals:

This learning theory was co-developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the 1990’s, although conceptually humans have been engaging in situated learning since the cognitive revolution.  Before education was institutionalized, we used to call this form of learning an apprenticeship.

The social learning theory as applied to three key elements elements:

  • Content – The content is a tool used in a direct application, and does not need to be remembered (although it often is) after its use
  • Context – The learning happens at the right time and place for it to be authentic. Context creates a platform to examine the learning experiences
  • Community – The community helps the learner reflect, explore, and understand the concepts they are working with. In truth, there rarely is much we do these days that does not involve a community.

COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.

Etienne Wenger

Key Resources:

Here is some media for you if you want to explore the concept of Situated Learning further: