Situated Learning (J. Lave)


Lave argues that learning as it normally occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs (i.e., it is situated). This contrasts with most classroom learning activities which involve knowledge which is abstract and out of conte xt. Social interaction is a critical component of situated learning -- learners become involved in a "community of practice" which embodies certain beliefs and beha viors to be acquired. As the beginner or newcomer moves from the periphery of this communi ty to its center, they become more active and engaged within the culture and hence assume the role of expert or oldtimer. Furthermore, situated learning is usual ly unintentional rather than deliberate. These ideas are what Lave & Wenger (1991) call the pr ocess of "legitmate peripheral participation."

Other researchers have further developed the theory of situated learning. Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989) emphasize the idea of cognitive apprenticeship: "Cognitive apprenticeship supports learning in a domain by enabling students to acquire, develop and u se cognitive tools in authentic domain activity. Learning, bo th outside and inside school, advances through collaborative social interaction and the social construction of knowledge." Brown et al. also emphasize the need for a new epistemology for learnin g -- one that emphasizes active perception over concepts a nd representation. Suchman (1988) explores the situated learning framework in the context of artificial intelligence.

Situated learning has antecedents in the work of Gibson (theory of affordances) and Vygotsky (social learning). In addition, the theory of Schoenfeld on mathematical proble m solving embodies some of the critical elements of situated learning framework.


Situated learning is a general theory of knowledge acquisition . It has been applied in the context of technology-based learning activities for schools that focus on problem-solving skills (Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1993). McLellan (1995) provides a collection of articles that describe various pe rspectives on the theory.


Lave & Wenger (1991) provide an analysis of situated learning in five different settings: Yucatec midwives, native tailors, navy quartermasters, meat cutters and alcoholics. In all cases, there was a gradual acqu isition of knowledge and skills as novices learned from experts in the context of everyday activities.


1. Knowledge needs to presented in an authentic context, i.e., settings and applications that would normally involve that knowle dge.

2. Learning requires social interaction and collaboration.


Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbilt (March 1993). Anchored instruction and situated cognition revisited. Educational Technology, 33(3), 52-70.

Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in Practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Periperal Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McLellan, H. (1995). Situated Learning Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Su chman, L. (1988). Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human/Machine Communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Young, M. (1996). Situated Cognition Course Notes