06 August 2009

Situated Learning

Much learning is done within contexts. An average 17 year old would have learned her vocabulary at a rate of 5000 words per year for over 16 years by listening, talking, reading, and interactions. In contrast, if vocabulary were taught simply by abstract definitions and sentences taken out of context, it is hardly even possible to learn 100 to 200 words per year.

Students should be exposed to and then adopt the culture of which the tools they are taught to use. This requires the support of a community, and learning is a process of enculturation. The activities that the students will be exposed to will be authentic (i.e. ordinary practices of the culture, and not just classroom or toy problems), and these activities are framed by its culture.

While we want our students to have practical knowledge on how to use the tools and develop practical skills, we also want them to develop deep thinking and cognitive sills. Within the context of situated learning, this is called cognitive apprenticeship. It begins with problems and practice in situ, and moves them beyond the traditional practices by emphasizing that practices are not absolute, and students are encouraged to generate their own solutions with other members of the culture, which we sometimes call a community of practice.


Brown, J., Collins, A., Dugid, P. (1989). "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning". Educational Researcher. 18(32). pp 32 - 42.

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