What is the Situated Learning Theory?
Situated learning, simply put, is learning that takes place in the same context in which it is applied. It was first proposed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger as a model of learning in among group of people who share a craft and/or a profession, i.e., a community of practice.The basic tenet of the theory is that abstract knowledge usually given in the classroom is harder to retain. Real learning happens only when it is contextual – meaning, when students can directly apply it in authentic activities, contexts and cultures. For example, an electrical mechanic may have a far deeper understanding of electrical circuits than an engineering student who mostly has theoretical knowledge and some practical understanding of how electrical circuits work. This is because in the former case, the learner directly sees the benefits (when he achieves success) and outcomes (when he makes a mistake)of his learning process.
Situated learning environments place students in learning situations where they are actively immersed in an activity while using problem-solving (critical thinking) skills. These opportunities should involve a social community which replicates real world situations. In the end, the situated learning experience should encourage students to tap their prior knowledge and to challenge others in their community. Some of the ways to apply this theory are:
Field trips where students actively participate in an unfamiliar environment, accommodative education and practical experiences in which students are engrossed and physically involved in an actual work environment, music and sports practice which imitate real setting of these events, e.g., orchestras, studios, training facilities, laboratories and child-care centers used as classrooms in which students are put to work in situations that replicate actual work settings and illustrate scenarios where students are actively involved in finding solutions to real world problems. As the theory suggests, the student is “situated” in the learning process and knowledge acquisition becomes a part of the learning activity, its context, and the “culture in which it is developed and used”.
Learning happens through the actions involved in everyday situations where employees have to play certain roles – a sales representative, a marketing expert, the operations manager, an HR executive and so on. Knowledge is acquired contextually and is transferred only to similar situations. Therefore it is important to indulge them in role-playing situations that will engage the learners in complex, realistic, problem-centered activities and provide support in acquiring the desired knowledge. To do this, one must recast their role from a teacher to a facilitator. It is important to track progress, assess products produced by learners, build collaborative learning environments, encourage reflection, and help them become more aware of contextual hints to aid understanding and transference.
Scenario Based Learning
Learning is not separated from the world of action but exists in robust, complex, social environments made up of actors, actions, and situations.Therefore facilitators must work on providing scenarios for new learners, knowing the type and intensity of guidance necessary to help learners master these situations. As learners acquire additional skills, less support will be needed. But assessment of the intellectual growth of the individual and the group of learners the individual is a part of through discussion, reflection, and evaluation is necessary.
Information and facts that are hard to retain when they are drilled out of any meaningful context and are learned much more effortlessly when learners are acquiring them as part of a game or through social media such as blogs or micro blogs. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Ning allow learners, once they have moved beyond personal connections, to embrace a community where they can learn from each other. Social interactions play a significant role in the learning process. The contextual understanding thus gained not only allows them to understand concepts better but also helps them learn from peers about how to apply them.
As Eduard Lindeman argued many years ago, learning is part of daily living. Problem solving and learning from experience are central processes, which is why educators need to reflect on their understanding of what constitutes knowledge and practice. Perhaps one of the most important things to grasp here is the extent to which education involves informed and committed action. The above are fascinating ideas for exploration and, to some significant extent, take informal educators in a completely different direction to the prevailing pressure towards accreditation and formalization.