Situated Learning.

Fitting in with my recent work with Online Learning Communities is Situated Learning that contends that learning takes place in the same context in which it is applied. A work colleague recently completed a project where a traditionally “dull” course was given a context in which the students could relate what they were learning to a “real” situation. This lead to a far greater level of engagement by the students and the results they achieved were vastly improved over previous offerings of the same course. According to Lave (1991).

“Lave argues that learning as it normally occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs (i.e., it is situated). This contrasts with most classroom learning activities which involve knowledge which is abstract and out of context. Social interaction is a critical component of situated learning — learners become involved in a “community of practice” which embodies certain beliefs and behaviors to be acquired. As the beginner or newcomer moves from the periphery of this community to its center, they become more active and engaged within the culture and hence assume the role of expert or old-timer. Furthermore, situated learning is usually unintentional rather than deliberate.”

Herrington et. al. (2000) have a model to use as a guide for developing online learning environments with a view to integrating situated learning. Its key elements are:
•    Authentic context that reflects the way that knowledge will be used.
•    Authentic activities.
•    Access to expert performances and the modeling of processes.
•    Multiple roles and perspectives.
•    Collaborative construction of knowledge.
•    Reflection.
•    Articulation.
•    Coaching and scaffolding.
•    Authentic assessment.

Keeping in mind everyone’s opinions are different based on their prior experience and my prior experience comes from the practical application of technology in real world situations. I’m astounded at how learners are expected to learn while detached from the situation where that learning will be applied. The problem I’m currently analyzing is how to bring integrate situated learning to a degree program as opposed to a single course. With a single course you can introduce role plays, simulations etc to set the context in which the learner can learn in a situated manner but how do you add this level of enculturation to an entire degree program with a topically diverse subset of courses?

The way I’m leaning at the moment is to take advantage of the industry practitioners who have volunteered to assist with the online learning network or community of practice. With these folk divulging real world situations that are currently occurring within their professional lives and describing there experiences and actions in particular scenarios I’m hoping that the students will at least get a glimpse of how the topics they are currently learning will fit into their chosen profession once they enter the work force.

Herrington (2000). Towards a New Tradition of Online Instruction: Using Situated Learning Theory to Design Web-Based Units. ASCILITE.

Lave, J. (1990). “Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation.”


One thought on “Situated Learning.”

  1. G’day Col,

    If you apply your idea outlined in your last paragraph against the list from Herrington et al (2000) is it possible to identify other questions/problems you need to address with the BProfCom work?

    For example, after a quick look, the idea you outline seems to cover the following two bits of the Herrington model

    Access to expert performances and the modeling of processes.
    Multiple roles and perspectives

    Maybe, they might encourage a bit of reflection on the part of the students, or at least some of them.

    How do you go about providing the rest of Herrington’s model?

    Authentic context that reflects the way that knowledge will be used.
    Not sure how you might do this, or if you even can.

    Authentic activities.
    You might be able to set some activities, but how do you design them so students would do them? Is this an example of what Downes’ talks about with the problem of how to encourage students when you can’t require them to do things? I wonder if Downes’ work around personal learning might reveal some insights that might help.

    Collaborative construction of knowledge.
    This opens up a whole can of worms about your perspective of knowledge and how it is constructed. Having students actively participate in the learning network might be sufficient. Which may bring us back to the previous point.

    You may wish to look at the different strategies that exist to encourage reflection, again without necessarily drawing on the ability to force students.

    Do Herrington talk about this being the students articulating their understanding? Or something different

    Coaching and scaffolding.
    Scaffolding entry into the learning network will be interesting. As is the question of how you do this during the networks operation and even if it is an individual’s responsibility. Is it your job? Or that of the networks? How do you know that people have joined? When they have moved to a new level? What help do they need?

    Authentic assessment.
    How does the question of assessment fit with the notion of personal learning? Does the learning network require assessment? At least in the sense of something set and marked by the institution.

    Drawing on these sorts of principles can be a useful way of identifying interesting and useful ways forward. Would be a good idea to engage more with these.

    However, important also to know that they themselves were developed in a particular environment and may not always be applicable to other environments. e.g. the bit about assessment. You may need to identify their holes and supplement them with other principles.


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