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.