Comparing Situated Learning

Following the publishing of my previous blog post “Situated Learning.” I have received a few comments discussing my thoughts and the post. However a comment from one of my lecturers caught my attention in particular, a challenge per say to think deeper about the topic. I have spent some time researching the idea of situated learning and want to consider how it compares to similar well-known learning theories. By placing a focus on situated learning and comparing it to other theories it has forced me to engage more with the idea of situated cognition and as a result expanded my knowledge of the subject.

Firstly what is a theory, so often we hear the word used throughout published works but how is it defined? The colloquial use of the term means a guess or a hunch, but from a psychological or scientific point of view it is much different. As stated by Cherry (2012), “A theory is based upon a hypothesis and backed up by evidence.” However why do we apply psychological theories about learning to education? Doing so enables us to have a “scientific basis for education in how people think, feel, and motivate themselves rather than only to guess what intuitively might make sense, (Sternberg, 2008). Referring back to situated learning, is it the best theory for learning, how does it compare to other theories from the past and those that stand alongside it?

Lave and Wenger (1990) referred to situated learning as the process of “legitimate peripheral participation.” They argued that most learning jumps in and out of context and that any knowledge obtained needs to be presented in settings and situations that relate to that knowledge. McLellan (1996) speaks of learning as a “Lifelong process” resulting from learning in “different situations.” Expanding further upon this the thoughts of McLellan, it could be said that we learn as we grow throughout our lives as we encounter new situations and people. Perhaps the idea of situated learning for our children create a similar environment where the class learn through experience and context. Referring to my previous blog post Collins (1988) highlighted some of the benefits associated with situated learning. Describing it as a theory which applies knowledge, engages children, shows the implications children’s thought processes can have in real life and creates meaning for the learning that is taking place. Thinking deeper about situated learning Brown et al (1989) suggest the idea of cognitive apprenticeship. They state that it “supports learning in a domain by enabling students to acquire, develop and use cognitive tools in learning both outside and inside school.”

Comparing the theory of situated learning to other theories past and present we can see a link between it and constructivist ideas. The theory of constructivism suggests that what children learn arises through the construction of concepts that make sense through their real life experiences and reflections upon these experiences. The cognitive tools mentioned by Brown et al (1989) are advanced through the idea of collaboration, social interaction and the idea of social constructivism. Situated learning has similarities with Vygotsky’s theory of learning through social development, both of these theories emphasise the importance of social learning. Vygotsky (1978) introduced the idea of the zone of proximal development where by a child can extend their knowledge and therefore further their learning through the help of another peer. In continuation of this, Bandura (1977) believed that social learning theory explained human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.

However in conclusion which specific theory is the correct one, which theory should we promote in our education system? No theory is a pure theory, they are all built upon the ideas presented in other theories. In my own opinion i feel that by educating children in a situated context it highlights the idea of ensuring that their learning has meaning. If I felt that I could not apply something to my own life or experiences that i may encounter, i would deem it a waste of time that i could be investing in understanding something else. By providing a context children understand how they can use what they are being taught in their own lives. This in turn is a method of engagement, capturing the attention of the child that would otherwise take no interest. Situated learning puts a child in a context where the skills they are being taught become transferable. Finally all theories have positives and negative aspects to them but in terms of teaching it is up to use as professionals to decide on what is best for our children’s education.

    Sources, References and Further Reading

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42

Cherry, K. (2012) What is Theory? [Online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/tindex/f/theory.htm (Accessed: 26 February 2013).
Collins, A. (1988). Cognitive Apprenticeship and Instructional technology. (Technical Report No. 6899). BBN Labs Inc., Cambridge, MA.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McLellan, H. (1996) Situated Learning Perspectives. New Jersey: Education Technology Publications.

Sternberg, R. (2008). Applying Psychological Theories to Educational Practice. American Educational Research Journal. March 2008, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 150 –165.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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5 thoughts on “Comparing Situated Learning

  1. Another fascinating read Chris, thanks for sharing. You clearly have a strong grasp of the nature of psychological theory and how it can be applied to learning, and I once again learnt more about the specific theories from your writing here.

    A couple of points occurred to me whilst reading this, not so much in terms of the specific theories but more in terms of the actual use of theory in general. You touch on the problems of the use of theory in practice in your final paragraph, and in the introductory definitions. Your definition is from the standpoint of positivism which in my understanding is the approach psychology takes (however, do pick me up if this is wrong, psychology is not my background). I wondered whether you were aware that this is not the only position to take on the nature of theory. Something which made me think deeply about this was the first chapter of Glaser & Strauss’ book on ‘Grounded Theory’, a copy of which is on our VLE here: https://tulip.plymouth.ac.uk/Module/EEES403/Seminar%20prereading%20unavailable%20on%20reading%20list/Forms/AllItems.aspx.

    Exploring further the philosophy of methodology could be a further step to take with your study.

    Another point, again philosophical, was around the statement you make that ” in terms of teaching it is up to use as professionals to decide on what is best for our children’s education”. Whilst this may or may not be true, it struck me that this point is deliberately presented as very much an opinion in your piece. It might be interesting to explore how this could be strengthened and made into a reasoned argument rather than an opinion or belief. Philosophically, what gives teachers the right to decide on what is best for children’s education? I am not necessarily disagreeing, more encouraging you to explore and strengthen the argument.

    Thanks again for making me think!

  2. Judi says:

    Don’t most of these theories assume that there is a body of knowledge that can be learned to some degree or other? They don’t take account of power as it plays out in what is leant and from who.

  3. […] Taken from the blog: Christopher Nesbitt Don’t forget to visit the original author’s post here and leave a comment. […]

  4. […] topic I was encouraged by feedback that I received to post a second blog on the topic titled “Comparing situated learning,” this allowed me to research the topic further and deepen my understanding of the topic. Another […]

  5. […] topic I was encouraged by feedback that I received to post a second blog on the topic titled “Comparing situated learning,” this allowed me to research the topic further and deepen my understanding of the topic. Another […]

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