Social Constructivism: Situated Learning

As early as 1929 Alfred North Whitehead argued that the way students learn many things in school produces "inert" knowledge - knowledge that can be used to answer items on a school test but which is not available to the student when he or she is trying to solve a problem that requires that knowledge. More recently several theorists have argued that a teaching content in an abstract, out of context way results in inert knowledge ( They argue that for knowledge to be active it should be learned:

The general term for this type of learning activity is situated learning. Situated learning (  proponents argue that knowledge to be useful must be situated in a relevant or "authentic" context. They further argue that knowledge is to a great degree a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is used. That is, it cannot be taught in the abstract. It must be taught in context. Situated learning proponents, for example, propose that learners can often master complex and difficult material through cognitive apprenticeships. Briefly stated, a ognitive apprenticeship ( involves. Situated learning proponents support both problem solving and anchored instruction as instructional strategies.

The examples below illustrate some of the types of software available that support situated learning. You can read the explanation of how these programs work or download a version of the program to try it out on your computer.


A Day in the Life...

A Day in the Life... from Curriculum Associates is an interactive job-readiness program that asses and teaches basic skills and employability within the career fields of food services, health, maintenance, retail, clerical, and customer service.

It employees a "functional context" approach to learning. The learner have to some of the things a person does in a job. Just like real life, learners move from place to place and think about what they need to know to do that job.

A Day in the Life... provides a scenario at the beginning of each module. Real-life situations bring the program to life -- delivering high interest, motivation, and hands-on experience. The following is a scenario of the Food Service field: "You are the cook at the Happy Valley Restaurant. Your job is to complete each food order you receive. Look at the food preparation guide to learn how to cook each food item. Look at each order to see what you need to cook."

Basic reading, writing, math, and problem-solving skills are embedded in computer-simulated tasks. Learners have to read memos, read manuals, read letters, fill out reports, and so many other things. For example, the following is a step-by-step instruction of preparing spaghetti that customer has ordered.

The following is a sample memo.

When learners look at a memo, letter, or manual, they may use the Learn About button for a lesson on it.

To try out this trial program, you must install it on your computer's hard drive. To do that you must copy the folder called day to your hard drive. That folder is on the CD-ROM in the subdirectory called programs/mps/. You might create a subdirectory on your computer named EDSoft (only if you do not already have one). Then you could copy day into the EDSoft  subdirectory. Once you have copied day over to your hard drive you can use the standard Windows procedure to install that program by clicking on install.exe in the EDSoft/day/ folder on your hard drive. Then follow the directions on the screen.

Click here to know more about  installation.

Additional Information

Situated Learning

This web site provides a general overview of situated learning for beginners.


Example of Learning by Doing

This web page is a report of an undergraduate student on how learning by doing compares to the typical college fare of courses.


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