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situated learning


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A model of learning first proposed by Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger, which suggests that learning is a social activity which arises from our engagement with our daily lives. They describe this process as one of participating in a community of practice, and argue that such communities are found everywhere, whether we are engaging with work, school, home, our civic or social involvements, or our leisure pursuits. In some communities of practice we are central players, while in others our role may be more peripheral. As we engage in these activities, we interact with others and with the wider world in terms of our socio‐historical and economic context; and in so doing we necessarily adjust and tune the ways we relate. We can call this process ‘learning’. It is a collective enterprise, and results in practices and behaviours which reflect our collective pursuits and are ‘owned’ by the ‘community’ which has been created by this shared endeavour. This is what Lave and Wenger term a ‘community of practice’. Thus, situated learning is neither a form of education nor a set of pedagogical practices, but is rather a way of framing the process of learning firmly within a context of lived experience, as something which takes place through participation in group involvement with daily life. It is a joint enterprise, engagement in which binds individuals into a social unit or ‘community’, one which develops, as do the individuals within it, over time. In practice, there is an argument for linking certain pedagogical practices or environments with situated learning. These might include, for example, learning undertaken in ‘real’ environments appropriate to the subject, such as horticulture taught in a garden or greenhouse, or field trips organized to engage learning with practice in the ‘real world’. However, as a model it calls into question several widely held assumptions about education and the learning process. For example, it challenges the idea that learning is an individual activity—something undertaken by individuals. It also challenges the idea that learning or education is a process which is separate from our everyday lives, and that it has a start and end point. Perhaps most of all, this approach calls into question the assumption that learning is always a result of teaching.

Further Reading:

J. Lave and E. Wenger Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Subjects: Education.


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