Situated learning

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Situated learning
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Situated learning, situated cognition - is a general theory of knowledge acquisition. Situated learning is a model of learning proposed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger who argue that learning should be embedded within activity, context and culture and should be rather unintentional than the deliberate. They call this a process of “legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave, J., & Wenger, E. 1990). Knowledge should to be presented in setting and situations that normally would involve that knowledge so in the most simple of words, learning takes place in the same context in which it is applied. According to assumption, that learning is a social process whereby knowledge is co-constructed, significant elements of situated learning are social interactions and collaboration which involve learners into “community od practice” in which they acquire certain beliefs and behaviors. Newcomers become part of a community and move toward full participation in it going from community's periphery to its center and thanks to commitment and activity one day assume the role of an expert. In that system growing value of learners’ participation and their desire of becoming full practitioners motivate them naturally and leads to reach satisfactory progress.

Elements of situated learning

The theory of situated learning, proposed by Wenger, is presented in detail in the book “Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity” (Wenger, 1998), however, the author did not propose any name for his theory. Due to its social nature, it can be called the social theory of learning, the theory of community of practice. Wenger links participation in the practice community with learning by presenting key categories that characterize participation in the community as elements of the learning and cognition process. According to that learning is expressed in 4 components, that no one aspect is more important than another. These are:

  • Community: learning as belonging thanks to membership in the community of practice,
  • Identify: learning as becoming by constructing identity,
  • Meaning: learning as experience thanks to negotiating meanings,
  • Practice: learning as doing thanks to participation in the practice of this community.

Examples of situated learning activities

Situated learning as an effective method of knowledge acquisition is increasingly being practiced in schools, for example:

  • international exchanges and field trips – students may actively participate in an unfamiliar environment
  • vocational settings e.g. apprenticeships in the laboratory - students are involved in activities that are actually carried out in the profession.


Author: Anna Stankowska