Learning theories for the 21st century: Situated cognition

I’m currently enrolled in a course on learning theories for the 21st century. Each week, a blog reflection on the seminal texts in the literature is required. Thought it would be good to share the knowledge with a broader community. Hope you find something applicable to your own practice.

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

The theory of situated cognition is itself situated at the intersection of experiential, distributed cognition, and sociocultural theories of learning, in which “Activity, concept, and culture are interdependent” (33). Principles of cognition that can be derived from the theory include:

1. Learning and activity are indistinct.

2. Knowledge is distributed across a context, in mental processes, but also environmental structures and artifacts. (36)

3. Culture imbues tools with meaning. Understanding how to use a tool requires an understanding of the culture.

Learning understood as active, immanently social, and distributed across the context of learning is promoted through the method of ‘cognitive apprenticeship,’ in which students “are enculturated into authentic practices through activity and social interaction” (37).

While situated cognition provides a flexible framework for meaningful research and practice, it also raises several questions concerning implementation and assessment. It is not entirely clear how the learning process is scaffolded by cognitive apprenticeship. It is said that ” teachers and colleagues support students’ attempts at doing the task. And finally they empower the students to continue independently” (39). The nature of the support–explicit or implicit?– and how the teachers will know when the students are “empowered” is left unsaid. I also wish the authors would have suggested ideas for assessing the development of learning via cognitive apprenticeship. It would seem to require a performance based assessment, illustrating competence of an activity in an authentic setting. This raises further issues of standardisation and feasibility. Also curious what motivates a student to go from ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ to active participation in a community? Is motivation also distributed across peers, teachers, tools, and environmental structures?

One thought on “Learning theories for the 21st century: Situated cognition”

  1. Interesting. I wonder about the logistics of facilitating authentic apprenticeships en masse.

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