"The theory of situated cognition
claims that every
human thought is adapted to the environment, that is, situated, because what
people perceive, how they conceive of their activity, and what they physically
do develop together" (Clancey, 1997).
Situated cognition is argued that it provides a broad, useful framework focusing
on everyday cognition, authentic tasks, and the value of in-context apprenticeship
training. But, how does this learning theory differ from behavioral or cognitive
perspective of learning?
Behaviorist theories and cognitive theories look at knowledge external to world,
either in behaviors or internal processes or structures. On the contrary, situated
learning looks at the learning phenomenon in a broader and holistic perspective
incorporating behaviors (actions) and cognition by recognizing the interaction
between people and environment and the role of situation. Wilson and Myers (2000)
commented that situated learning "is positioned to bring the individual
and the social together in a coherent theoretical perspective."
Behavioral and Cognitive Learning Theories
- Learning process is a process of enculturation, emphasizing
the socio-cultural setting and the activities of the people within
the setting. In other words, "learning is not an accumulation
of information, but a transformation of the individual who is moving
toward full membership in the professional community." (Hmelo
and Evensen, 2000)
- The situated cognition focuses on the participation
in communities of practice.
- Knowledge is located in the actions of persons and
groups. Human knowledge and interaction cannot be divorced from the
- Learning process both in behavioral and cognitive
psychology is individual one.
- Behavioral theories focus on formation of the association
between the stimuli and response via the manipulation of reinforcement;
cognitive theories focus on the information process and knowledge
representation within the learner, i.e. cognitive processes take place
within the heads of individuals)(Norman, 1993: the brain is the computational
engine of thought, and thereby concentrating one's efforts upon understanding
brain mechanisms and mental representations)
- Knowledge is revealed in behavioral changes implied
by the behavioral theories; and knowledge is organizational structure
resides within the learner.
Lave's Situated Learning and Everyday cognition (1988)
In Cognition in Practice (1988), Lave discussed the transfer problem in school
learning, and argued that learning in natural setting, contrast with most of
classroom learning, occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture
in which it is situated. Lave studied cognition in everyday situation and gave
descriptions of the following findings:
- Cognition is socially defined, interpreted, and supported.
- Social context constrain and aid cognition: research should examine cognition
in everyday to determine the generality of cognitive skills and articulate
the role of culture in the development of these skills
- People devise satisfactory opportunistic solutions. People do not employ
formal approaches to solving problems in everyday thinking. Participation
in interaction results in adaptivity of successful reasoning and learning.
and Duguid's (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning
According to Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989), the different instructional
goals of 'knowing what' and 'know how' result in different structures and practices
of our education system. They criticized the decontextualized learning resulted
from separation between learning and doing. They suggested that "activity
and situations are integral to cognition and learning" and that cognitive
apprenticeship can provide "the authentic practice through activity and
social interaction in a way similar to that evident--and evidently successful--in
Importance of authentic learning.
- Situated Cognition:
- Knowledge, as a product of a meaning-making process, cannot be separated
from the context of its use.
- Learning is a continuous, lifelong process from acting in situations.
- Tools and their use "reflect the particular accumulated insights of
- Learning is an enculturation process: "Given the chance to observe
and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up
relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance
with its norms."
- Cognitive apprenticeship: Four procedures that are characteristic
of cognitive apprenticeship:
- By beginning with a task embedded in a familiar activity it shows the students
the legitimacy of their implicit knowledge and its availability as scaffolding
in apparently unfamiliar tasks.
- By pointing to different decompositions it stresses that heuristics are
not absolute but assessed with respect to a particular task---and that even
algorithms can he assessed in this way.
- By allowing students to generate their own solution paths, it helps make
them conscious creative members of the culture of problem-solving mathematicians.
- Also, it helps students, in enculturating through this activity, acquire
some of the culture's tools--a shared vocabulary and the means to discuss,
reflect upon, evaluate and validate community procedures in a collaborative
Affordance is ecological concept about perception. The implications of this
- Gibson's "affordance" is a term to characterize the impact of
the environment on an organism's behavior, or how it lives in its environment.
Affordance emerges with the action of an organism, i.e. an organism's direct
perception of these affordances controls its behavior.
- The idea of affordances suggests an interactive and reciprocal relation
between an organism and its environment. Thus, it is important to analyze
behavior or organisms in relation to their environment.
- When the complexity of people as organisms is considered, perception of
affordances must go beyond a physical state of affairs to a conceptual state
- Any theory of learning must start with the culture in which the learner
resides. This is a critical pedagogical approach. If knowledge is co-produced
by the learner and the situation in the context of a culture or society, then
the position of the learner within the culture can become an important variable.
Also the teachers need to value the importance of respecting the knowledge
communities from which learners come and help them to become comfortable in
In summary, what are the key concepts of situated learning?
- Knowledge is not an object and memory is not a location. Instead, knowledge
is located in the actions of persons and groups. Knowledge evolves as individuals
participate in and negotiate their way through new situations.
- Knowing, learning and cognition are social constructions, expressed in actions
of people interacting within communities.
- Construction of meaning is tied to specific contexts and purposes.
- Mediation of artifacts: Cultural models are not just held by individual
participants but reside also in the practices in which the group engages,
the tools they use, and the contextual setting.
- "As situations shape individual cognition, individual thinking and
action shape the situation. This reciprocal influence constitutes an alternative
conception of systemic causality to the more commonly assumed linear object
causality." (Wilson and Myers, 2000).
- Cognitive Apprenticeship: To engage students to participate in a community
of practice can provide the following advantages:
- Legitimacy on the apprentice and available of community resources
- Strong goals and motivation
- Development of understanding of the enterprise through engagement in practice
- Communication among peers and near-peers.
- Legitimate peripheral participation (Lave, 1988, Lave & Wenger,
1991): a process how a learner engages in the activity of a sociocultural
practice and becomes increasingly competent in this practice. Participation
provides students to define ways of belonging to a community of practice.
- Legitimate" refers to social organization of and control over resources"
of the practice. To get full access to the resources takes time and experience
in the community of practice.
- Peripheral is used to "distinguish between new comers and old timers"
(Driscoll, 2000). The concept "encompasses multiple, varied, more-or-less
engaged and inclusive ways of being located in the fields of participation
defined by a community".
What phenomena does it attempt to explain?
Brown, Collins and Dugid (1989) supported their propositions about situated
learning and cognitive apprenticeship by addressing the following:
- There is a mismatch between the learning situation in school and the real
- There is a failure of knowledge to transfer.
- Training by abstraction is of little use.
- Learning is inherently a social phenomena
Situated learning emphasizes the idea that what is learned is specific to the
situation in which it is learned. Wilson and Myers (2000) described that situation
cognition "emphasizes the web of social and activity systems within which
authentic practice take place."
What are the implications of this view of learning to instruction?
Before we answer this question, let us review some basic theoretical assumptions
entailed in situated learning:
- Learning-in-practice (Lave, 1990): Learning is conceived as increasing participation
in communities of practice; Learning is a co-constitutive process in which
all participants change and are transformed through their actions and relations.
- Knowledge accrues through the lived practices of the people in the society:
knowledge remains inert and unused if taught in contexts that separate knowing
from doing; one learns a subject matter by doing what expert in that subject
- Learning involves social participation; hence, cognition takes place within
the world and not in minds construed as somehow separate from or outside the
world à learning should take place in complex, social situations with
varying emphasis on complex and social.
- Cognition is a matter of sign activity, or semiosis, i.e. the continuously
dynamic and productive activity of signs
Those assumptions give rise to some instructional principle and impacts
- Provide authentic tasks in the learning environment: authentic tasks are
those ordinary practices in the culture. The authenticity involve two levels:
the objectives and data in the setting, and the degree to which the tasks
that students are asked to perform are authentic.
- Simulate apprenticeship that comprises authentic task: School children could
acquire the knowledge and skills of historians, mathematicians, or scientists
by becoming apprentices in those disciplines.
- Anchored instruction: CTGV (Cognition and Technology Group at Venderbilt):
as a means of implementing the conditions of situated learning: providing
a situated context for solving complex and realistic problems.
- Learning communities: change of learning culture in the classroom: change
from knowledge dispenser into a learning community, in which teacher and learners
work collaboratively to achieve important goals emphasizing distributed expertise
(students come to the learning task with different interests and experiences
and are provided the opportunity within the community to learn different things.
For example, CSILE (Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environment) provides
a means for students to engage in knowledge-building within a learning community,
i.e. students focus on a problem of interest and begin to build a communal
database of information about the problem: discourse, reflection and peer
- Assessment In-Situ: assessment requires to indicate person's performance
in the various kinds of situation types: focusing on learning as processes
as well as the product.
Wilson and Myers (2000) described the impact of this type of social interactional
view on designers as follows:
- We as instructional designers must go into the community of the practitioners,
using ethnographic methods of observation and reflection, and become participant
observers. We develop a focus on how the community learn.
- Instructional designers must use methods of participatory design in which
the worker participates in redesign practices with the designer.
Young (1993) described four broad tasks for the design of situated learning:
- Selecting the situation: the general principle is to select the generator
set of situations, which entail complex, realistic problem spaces that afford
students to be able to detect the invariant concepts in the domain.
- Providing scaffolding: students need to be active generators of both problems
and solutions so that they can "crisscross the landscape of knowledge".
The principle is "initially limit a novice's access to all the features
of the context and then removing those constraints."
- Determining and supporting the role of the teacher: in situated learning,
students learn from different knowledge sources distributed in the environment,
e.g. the tools, the peers, themselves, the textbooks, and the teacher. The
responsibility of the teacher is to constant assess the interaction of students
and the environment and to guide students to pay attention to important attributes
of the environment.
- Assessing situated learning: Young pointed out several views of the assessment
in situated learning:
- The assessment methods should focus on "the process of learning, perception,
and problem solving."
- Assessment must become an integrated, ongoing, and seamless part of the
learning environment. Assessment must provide important feedback to both teacher
Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Dugid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the
culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18, 32-42.
Clancy, W. C. (1997). Situated cognition: On human knowledge and computer
representations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Drisoll, M. P.( 2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. 2nd.
Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice. Mind, mathematics and culture in
Lave, J.& Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Young, F. Y. (1993). Instructional Design for Situated Learning. Educational
Technology Research and Development, 41 (1), 43-57.