Secondary learning
Secondary learning

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Secondary learning

2.4 Situated cognition

Situated cognition theory, developed by Lave and Wenger (1991), takes social interaction a step further. This theory does not regard learning as the acquisition of knowledge but rather that learning a subject is a process of becoming a member of that subject’s community. Learning, therefore, is seen as an active process and occurs when ‘learners’ participate in real-world situated contexts. It involves not only knowledge but also the behaviours and values inherent in the community; context and culture impact on learning, the implication being that learning experiences need to be culturally and contextually authentic.

Following this theory, the role of the teacher is to set up learning environments where students can be initiated into the practices, community and discourse of the subject – that is, not learning history but becoming historians. Similarly, your learning – seen through this theory – is about becoming a member of the community of teachers, feeling a sense of belonging and having an ability to communicate with others in the community through shared meanings.

Teachers aligned with situated cognition theory:

  • model the behaviours of the subject community, showing interest and enthusiasm in the subject and ways in which members go about their work (for example, art teachers who practise art in the classroom)
  • set up tasks and activities rooted in ‘real-world’ contexts, allowing students to practise working and behaving as members of the community.

The principles of situated cognition can be observed in practice in many classrooms.

Reflection point

Think about what it means to be a member of your own subject community:

  • What knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes are involved?
  • What activities might take place in your subject that would help students to develop as members of the subject community?
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