What is Situated Learning?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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Situated learning is a type of learning that involves learning materials within the context of how the information or skills are actually used and applied. It is typically associated with social learning and though it was initially recognized in regard to adult education, some of its practices have been extended to youth education as well. With this type of learning, communities of practice are established in which individuals learn and build mutual meaning through active processes that imbue context and purpose into what is learned. Situated learning does not typically involve a particular pedagogical approach, but instead seeks to understand how learning relates to daily practices and social interactions.

One of the most important concepts within situated learning is the idea of “legitimate peripheral participation,” which is the process by which someone can learn by being within a social environment of practice. For example, someone can simply be around other people who are doing an activity, and the person will begin to learn what they are doing. In actual usage, this is typically not quite as passive and a person is encouraged to become a participant in his or her learning. This creates a community of practice, where everyone in a classroom or similar environment is learning through doing and sharing common experiences and knowledge.


Situated learning is often connected to the idea of learning within a context and not merely in a classroom. In general, the idea is that it can be more meaningful and effective for someone to learn about archaeology by actually going to an archaeology dig site, that a student chef best learns how to cook within a kitchen, and that a new carpenter learns on the job site by using tools. This type of situated learning is often called “cognitive apprenticeship” and involves the use of a practical environment to place what is learned into the context of its usefulness. School field trips for younger students are often intended to encourage this type of learning.

Many adults find situated learning to be more effective and meaningful than classroom learning. This may be due to the fact that adults often look for practical usefulness in what they learn, rather than being content with an abstract understanding of materials. Situated learning can, of course, be incorporated within a classroom and is often part of classroom design for technical schools or professional schools. It is also typically a fundamental aspect of apprentice programs in which a person learns through direct applications of the material being learned.


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Post 3

@serenesurface-- I could be wrong but I think that situated learning has usefulness in many different fields. Just because someone learns information in the classroom rather than the field doesn't mean that they don't need to know how to apply that information in the real world.

That's why there is an initial training period for practically every job out there.

Post 2

Situated learning is great for careers that require apprenticeship or hands-on learning. Basically any task that requires skill with the hands require this type of learning for the person to be effective at it. But there are some other career fields where situated learning isn't always necessary. A mathematician or a political scientist doesn't really need a lot of situated learning. These jobs require more conceptual learning where one looks for patterns in information.

That's probably why students are encouraged to select careers that they naturally have an inclination for. Some people are better with situated learning while others are better with conceptual learning.

Post 1

I think this is how children and those who are living in foreign countries learn language too. They don't learn by taking classes but rather by listening and observing other people speak. It can be a slow process, especially for adults, but I believe that learning language this way is more effective. Someone who has lived in Spain for a year will probably know more Spanish than someone who took a Spanish class for one year in the States.

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