Editor’s Note: This blog post has been updated in August 2021.
Before we begin to learn about the concept of Situated Learning Theory, let us first ask ourselves what is the basic purpose of training and learning? We can all agree that the fundamental objective is to acquire knowledge or new information. However, the objective of attending a training session or course is not only to gather new information but also to apply our knowledge and use this information accurately. Knowledge is redundant if we do not learn how to apply it in the course of work. Application of knowledge is as critical as acquiring new knowledge. Learners must be able to utilize their knowledge outside the classroom.
In every training course, the trainer will find avenues to ensure that we have understood the session. This could be through Q&A sessions, quizzes, and maybe even some fun interactive games. But, it usually ends there. A small and short period of time spent on the application of learning. Whether we have fully grasped the learning, its application when we set out in the real world remains to be seen and measured. Hence, one of the main objectives of attending the training session in the first place is lost along the way.
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What is Situated Learning Theory?
In continuing with the information from the introductory paragraph; now, could you envision an entire training session dedicated to learning while parallelly applying the same? Furthermore, not just general application, but how would it be to take part in a session that aligns completely with applying the new information directly in the job or role assigned to you? In an environment that you most relate to? This concept is known as Situated Learning Theory.
Situated learning, simply put, is learning that takes place in the same context in which it is applied. It is learning by doing. Situated learning was first proposed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger as a model of learning among a 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. Lave and Wenger have gone on to publish an insightful book that addresses Situated Learning holistically.
Situated learning environments place students in learning situations where they are immersed in an activity while using problem-solving (critical thinking) skills. These opportunities should involve a social community that replicates real-world situations. In the end, the situated learning experience should encourage students to tap their prior knowledge, build knowledge and skill, and challenge other learners. It is a natural fit and an epitome of a true training session.
There are many ways to apply Situated Learning Theory. However, four of them have found great success in the training world. They are:
- Group activities
- Scenario-based learning
- Using Technology
In the next section, let us explore each of these avenues.
Field trips, where students actively participate in an unfamiliar environment offer education and practical experiences where students are completely engrossed. Another example is music or sports practice that imitates a real-life setting of such events, ie. orchestras, studios, sports training facilities, etc. Or how about creating a “Corporate Sales Office” as your classroom? Learners are Sales Managers with independent targets, client lists, etc. Use these as classrooms in which students are put to work in situations that replicate actual/real-life work settings, and illustrate scenarios where students are engaged in finding solutions to real problems. As the theory suggests, the student is “situated” in the learning process, and knowledge acquisition becomes a part of the learning activity. Context, culture, and learning have greater alignment and superior learning outcomes are expected.
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 and assess progress made by learners, build collaborative learning environments, encourage reflection, and help them become more aware of contextual hints to aid understanding and be an effective tool for knowledge transfer.
Scenario Based Learning
Learning is not separated from the real world 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 the assessment of intellectual growth, through discussion, reflection, and evaluation, is critical for the individual and the group of learners the individual is a part of.
Information and facts are hard to retain when they are explained theoretically. Such concepts can be explained effortlessly when learners learn through a game or through social media such as blogs, videos, or articles. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin 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 an 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. The social learning concept is a powerful influence on the very concept of learning. The benefits of using technology to apply situated learning theory are very promising.
In the next section, let us address some of the common FAQs on the topic of situated learning, to completely understand, and aid towards implementation in your organization.
- We would like to try this at our workplace, what are the immediate best practices for us to focus on?
Just like any other training program, start off with a clear identification of the objectives. This should serve as the framework for the complete training session. As the name implies, context should be the greatest to derive the most out of the session. Only when activities mimic real-life situations, will learners be able to benefit from the contextual experience. The facilitators of the session must be able to provide accurate feedback. Ideally, choose a facilitator who is well versed in the concept and has great knowledge and experience of the “classroom” created. Ensure participation from all learners, for this is most critical. All learners, whether contributing individually or collectively in a group, have to be completely involved, immersed, and be actively engaged in the “learning”.
- Is Situated Learning Theory restricted to certain industries, job roles, etc.?
Absolutely not! Situated learning theory is a universal concept and works well across industries and individuals. Do remember to group people of similar skill sets so that learners are able to bank on each other to be able to come up with collective solutions. Ensure learners draw from each others’ experiences to build on their own knowledge and skill.
- What resources work well with Situated Learning Theory?
Case studies are a great resource, as it brings the best context to address problems and solutions. They could be further personalized to be accurate to the learning group. Lessons learned can be easily reflected upon by the learners even beyond the classroom.
Videos and visual aid have a natural appeal to learners. Organizations could utilize a host of appropriate resources, as they would in any normal training session. Do ensure that every resource is contextual that would aid to dwell deeper into the problem, and arrive at a suitable solution.
- What about assessments? How do we incorporate assessments in the classroom?
You have an opportunity to assess during the session, alongside their learning itself. The solutions that learners have come up with, either individually or through collaboration, the quality of the solution, can help facilitators continuously monitor, provide feedback and improvise to assess progress. Alternatively, the facilitator can pick up key points from the problem and solution framework to quiz the learner. Solutions derived could be compared with life experiences, history, research to pass an effective judgment on the quality of the solution.
Do you want to know more about Situated Learning Theory? Would you like to see Situated Learning solutions created by Origin Learning for our clients?
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and discover the world of opportunities to make every training session effective and engaging for your learners. Superior learning outcomes are guaranteed.