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Situated learning is education that takes place in a setting functionally identical to that where the learning will be applied:

  • Workshops, kitchens, greenhouses and gardens used as classrooms
  • Stand-up role playing in the real world setting, including most military training
  • Field trips and participant-observer studies in an alien culture
  • On the job training including apprenticeship and Cooperative education
  • Sports practice and music practice and art are situated learning by definition, as the exact actions in the real setting are those of practice - with the same equipment or instruments

Often it is "just in time learning", but not always - music, sports and military training usually begin very early and continue for the whole career of the learner. And classrooms designed for situated learning are usually in use long before there is any "need" to learn the material at hand.

Lectures and conversations between participants may be involved but typically are not the only focus of attention, and are kept short. In contrast to traditional classroom or seminar teaching, situated learning assumes that ongoing processes in which one is personally and physically involved, e.g. the surrounding climate and ecosystem, the social network of others doing the same thing, alter capacity for affective learning.

A different model of situated learning is put forward by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991). They place the acquisition of Knowledge in the context of social relationships – in a Community of Practice. It is not so much that learners acquire structures or models to understand the world, but that they participate in frameworks that have a social structure.

In the philosophy of education situated learning is usually thought very desirable, but is also somewhat expensive given it requires travel, tools, etc., that may be quite expensive. Explicit attention to building habits, is quite important in situated learning, and this may be due to some affinity with behaviorism and the assumption that conditioning is more important than acquired "book learning". Guide by your side is often contrasted to the sage on a stage approach of classroom lectures.

The building of ethical relationships between participants, and the development of a cohort ethic that is shared by all peers, so that peer pressure operates positively to improve performance, is also part of most situated learning theories.

There are also situated theories of ethics and of economics, e.g. most green economics and of knowledge - which is transferred by situated learning. All emphasize the actual physical, geographical, ecological and infrastructural state the actor is in, the affordances of those surroundings, and awareness of the choices one makes in them.

See also[]


Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press

External links[]

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