Situated Cognition

The basis of Situated Cognitive Learning theory is that learners learn best when they are given real life situations to apply their knowledge to. Learning happens by participating in communities of practice, and through actual practice in these communities you learn how to do something.

Before we get into the finer details, let’s look at an overview of the whole theory done by Heidi Digby (2010) called Jean Lave: The Situated Learning Theory:

As you can see, the focus is on the sociocultural setting and an individual’s actions in that setting rather than on the individual themselves. These individuals are changed (including learning new things) by their participation in these communities. Participants are involved in several communities of practice at a given time, and their learning is impacted based on their level of participation. They can be on one of five different trajectories: peripheral, inbound, insider, boundary, outbound; all of which affect their level of participation.

In order to have a community of practice you must have the following elements:


Wenger's dimensions of practice as community (joint enterprise, mutual engagement and shared repertoire)

(Harris, R. and Niven, J., 2002)

So, what does this mean for us as educators?

It means that a great way for our students to learn is through apprenticeship so they can get real situational experience in a community of practice. We can still teach in anchored lessons, but we want to anchor those lessons in real life situations. Teachers will create a classroom where the teachers and students work together towards a goal, and all are participating in the community of practice.

With this type of instruction, it also changes how we test, as standardized testing no long suits this kind of learning. Instead it lends itself to diagnosis, summary statistics and portfolios.

Stop and Reflect:

Does this seem like a theory that you could easily implement in your classroom? Do you think that changing how we evaluate students’ learning would work in our current classrooms?

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