Situated Cognition And Meaningful Learning In College Classrooms
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The Importance Of Situated Cognition In Higher Education

Situated cognition, or what is also referred to as ‘situated learning’, describes the knowledge of an individual as the product of that person’s learning context and culture. The term refers to a range of theories, all of which assume that cognition and context are bound.

Situated cognition posits that the type of activities that an individual partakes in, further to the learning context and culture, provides the framework for what that individual knows. While learning and development take place within the individual, that which lies outside of the individual is vital to that learning-development process.

Jean Lave and Étienne Wenger pioneered the concept of situated cognition and communities of practice (CoP) in their 1991 book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. John S. Brown, Allan Collins, and Paul Duguid developed ideas that became the foundations of practice in the classroom citing examples from legacy subjects in school curricula in their 1989 article entitled Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.

The Social Element

It might be better and indeed simpler to refer to the concept as (social) constructivism given that learning and an individual’s knowledge are constructed socially. What and how that person learns is directly related to the learner’s environment, his/her interaction, and collaboration.

Using language as a case in point, an individual learns a language by interacting and conversing with others, in addition to exposure to visual stimuli related to the language that is being learned. Consequently, when learning a language in an immersed environment, the learner will be exposed to a wide array of factors that ultimately influence her/his speech.

In addition to pronunciation, the learner will also pick up on words emphasized in a given culture and at a particular point in time. Some words are used more than others depending on the temporal period and even location. If a learner is predominantly exposed to a work or business environment or culture, there is a higher probability that the learner will adopt a professional language character.

In many cases, the learner will be exposed to either the same individual or group of people on a regular basis, depending on the learning context. Regardless of whether the learner has been intentionally paired with someone or become attached to a particular individual when learning to speak a language, a relationship called cognitive apprenticeship is formed.

In such a relationship, the learner is exposed to the knowledge and skills of the expert. Accordingly, a knowledge transmission belt is formed through which knowledge and skills are shared between the learner and the expert. If the expert in question is a native speaker of a language and she/he has grown up in the corresponding language culture and traditions, that knowledge and experience will be transmitted to the learner. The expert shapes and forms the learner.

Transmitting knowledge and experience can be illustrated by referring to learners of English as a second language. When two or more learners are immersed in English language environments but one is attached to divergent cultural contexts, they are unlikely to learn English, for example, in the same way. As a result, their methods of speech and interaction are likely to be different, both extending from their social and cultural positions.

As another case in point, individuals introduced to new societies, new places of living may attempt to walk on one side of the street or walk a certain way but over time it may become apparent to that individual that his/her way of walking and directionality might not work. Thus, the individual is likely to change his/her patterns and manner of moving in and amongst other people.

The same can be said of family members as part of a larger social (family) community or employees entering into a new workplace or work environment, and the idea of manners. This example is good for crystallizing the concept of ‘communities of practice’.

Forces of social institutions are at play here and rather than manners of interaction and personal conduct being imposed on an individual, they become exchanged and shared. The idea of communities of practice is important for conceptualizing the university classroom. Communities of practice are like open forums extending opportunities for everyone to participate. Within the community, students can be identified as legitimate peripheral participants (LPPs) and as such are essentially novices or newcomers to a community who endeavor to learn the craft of the masters, eventually helping the community achieve its goals and progress.

Situated Learning: Benefits For Educators And Students

Situated cognition provides educators with a framework for understanding how knowledge is formed and passed on to others. It provides the basis for grasping the learning processes of individuals. Situated learning can serve as a powerful learning tool to form learners into desired shapes and pick-up desired skills while avoiding others.

University instructors in all fields must be aware of the importance of context and that social interaction among students is the driving force behind much of what is being learned in the classroom. Because university classes are well-positioned to be interactive, instructors have a natural advantage in facilitating cognitive apprenticeship in the classroom – what Alan Collins, John S. Brown, and Susan E. Newman refer to in their 1987 report, Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing and Mathematics and in their 1988 work under a similar title in Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children.

Instructors act as models of behavior in their classrooms, setting the tone of student behavior and manners of thinking – what is referred to as “scaffolding.” Instructors become masters of a particular craft (also acting as coaches), demonstrating their approach to a particular craft in a classroom and guiding students in their engagement with the same or similar tasks. This allows students to emulate the skills that lead to the development of their own mastery. Students see a model in action and attempt to perform based on that model.

In order to provide learners or apprentices with the skills they need to effectively engage in the real world, efficient execution for the situated learning process can occur in the absence of abstract instruction or the use of abstract concepts. The more abstract a lesson is and the greater use of abstract concepts, the less genuine the lesson becomes and less likely to reflect what a learner would experience in the real world.

Fortunately, instructors have an abundance of real-life scenarios from which to draw on and with which to infuse the teaching-learning process. This can come in the form of simulations providing the opportunity for students to demonstrate problem-solving skills and competencies.

Learning occurs when the information is relevant to the activities and learning environment. If there is an obvious disconnect between what is being learned and whether that knowledge can be applied, it is likely that little learning has actually taken place.

In order for the learners to truly develop and begin to really reflect the skills of the instructor or the master of the craft, learners must be allowed to particular in repetitious activity in the classroom and be able to openly communicate with one another about the process that is taking place, including the obstacles, barriers, and challenges, in order to overcome them and aligned their skills more closely to those of the instructor.

As with most situations in life, individuals cannot be expected to know something without experiencing it. The same holds true for the university classroom in which instructors should always aim for students to know by doing and to maintain a firm connection between knowledge and practice.

As instructors of a particular discipline, such as political science, history, or sociology, we should keep in mind that we need to set the conditions in which students can operate as political scientists, historians, or sociologists.

5 Principles Of Cognitive Learning For Meaningful Learning

The primary goal of cognitive activities in the assignment is to get students involved and bring them beyond the point of being spectators of learning and education and become part of the learning.

They should be working in and on problems with one another while being supervised and guide by the instructor. For college instructors, the aim should be developing activities that expose the students to stimuli, formulate problem-solving strategies and solutions through personal and group collaboration and creativity, apply the logic and problem-solving and thus become engaged.

College instructors can formulate activities in accordance with 5 principles inherent within cognitive learning: remembering, understanding, applying, evaluating, and creating. These are the key ingredients for the creation of cognitive learning activities at any level.

1. Memory

Activities that immerse students in subjects areas, topics, or specific issues help them to set in motion numerous cognitive processes and executive functions, including memory management, dealing with immediate perceptual and linguistic processing, as well as such processes as visual, spatial, emotional, motivational, attention, adaptation, critical thinking, and problem-solving, (quick) decisionmaking (assessment of appropriateness), organizational, handling data, and concentration.

Spontaneous quizzes that require students to recall important information from memory can be in the form of labeling maps, constructing timelines, recalling and writing quotes, writing short bios or country profiles, or retelling historical events.

2. Comprehension/Understanding

Demonstration of understanding in class is a step towards integrating multiple resources and cognitive processes to enhance the meaningfulness of learning. Students asked to show that they comprehend either the simplicity or complexity of a given topic brings analytical skills into play. During activities in which students are free to demonstrate their comprehension skills, students exercise their memory recall.

Activities of this nature also invoke sounds and images captured in students’ memories, and compel them to envision information in myriad forms, and arrange it mentally before delivering their ideas or reactions to questions posed in class. Exercises like discussion forums, responding to concise questions or short quotes, or short in-class debate are excellent comprehension drills. Flipping a scenario involves instructor presenting an event or historical currents and inviting students to outcomes of that scenarios or precursors to it.

Alternatively, instructors can present all of these items, including the core event itself, and ask students to classify the events as either outcome or impetus.

3. Applying

The application of knowledge implies creativity. When asked to apply what they know, students are setting in motion an entire host of cognitive skills that reinforce the development of one another. When teaching, a subject matter can become mundane because not all information instructors are required to teach is fun and exciting; approaching learning in the classroom by addressing these particular principles of cognitive learning can change that.

Having taught specifics according to the syllabus and getting students involved invoke the active dimension of student engagement rather than merely speaking to students. Allowing students more time to speak can even take classroom teaching in positive, if even unexpected, new directions.

Allow students to introduce their favorite book or app to the class. Through this exercise, students will then have a free hand in applying what they know, on their terms and in some of their comfort zones, while still stepping out of others. Other forms of short presentations can prove overwhelmingly fruitful and can center on the introduction and discussion of concepts and definitions (even competing definitions), and the presentation and application of theoretical concepts.

Even more thought-invoking is an exercise called “What’s the problem with this?” whereby instructors pose statements of situations to the class that are either contradictory in character or pose various kinds of puzzles or challenges.

4. Generating/Creating

When students are exposed to new and unexpected settings, conditions, and stimuli, they simply become improved versions of themselves by streamlining existing skillsets or introducing the student to a natural skill that they were not entirely aware they possessed.

Students’ cognitive skills can be pushed by asking them to engage in activities that allow them to be creative. Short tasks that push their learning boundaries can involve something as simple as writing an alternative history to an event or outlining how an event could have unfolded differently.

In other politics-style tasks, students can write down expected outcomes or predicted outcomes of a current event. A graphics collage has also been received well by students as a way of reinforcing key data bits through images.

5. Assessment

Student assessments can include the evaluation of situations or case studies and be done through a comparative approach. Examining and analyzing information can invoke the use of short-term and long-term memory, weigh it against current topics addressed in the classroom, according to the syllabus, and project outcomes. Students can be asked to represent a cluster of data in two or three different ways, allowing the student to explore multiple analysis and visualization techniques or methods.

Constructive engagement can also take the form of simulated focus groups in the classroom. At the same time, this exercise introduces students to methods in the social sciences, demonstrating research in practice. Students can then be asked to extract key points from the discussion and undertake a short assessment. Weighing the benefits and potential pitfalls of decisions made throughout history, in political or international relations scenarios, or when applying research strategies and approaches, also allows students to make judgments related to studies.

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