The Quintessential Of The Situated Cognition Theory And Its Application in eLearning Course Design
The Situated Cognition Theory is based upon principles related to the fields of anthropology, sociology and cognitive sciences. Its main argument is that all knowledge that a learner acquires is somehow situated within activities that are socially, physically or culturally-based.
The Situation Cognition Theory mainly supports, that the acquisition of knowledge cannot be separated from the context in which this knowledge is collected. Therefore, a learner must grasp the concepts and skills that are being taught in the context in which they will eventually be utilized. As a result, instructors who are trying to apply this theory in their classes are encouraged to create an environment of full immersion, wherein students must be able to learn skills, as well as new ideas and behaviors that are taught in the context in which they will be used at a later time.
Applied to eLearning course design, it is obvious that the Situated Cognition Theory is directly related to the way that eLearning content is presented to the audience. This implies that all type of new information learners are exposed to, should be given within context. In practice, from an instructional designer’s point of view, this can be translated to the incorporation of case studies and interactive branching scenarios and simulations of real life settings in which the particular piece of knowledge would apply. By all means, all eLearning activities should make explicit to the learners the connection of what is actually presented as part of the eLearning content with its practical application in real life.
The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model and Key Teaching Strategies For Applying It in eLearning
In 1989, Brown, Collins, and Newman developed the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model, which is closely linked to the Situated Cognition Theory. This model also relies upon practical teaching methods, whereby context learning is key. For example, if learners were trying to acquire the basic concepts of architecture, they would not only take theoretical courses associated with the specific topic, but they would also seek out real world experiences which would allow them to become fully immersed in the field.
As the name implies, in the case of the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model, learners are encouraged to acquire the necessary skills by working alongside a master that serves as the subject matter expert in the field, next to whom they are expected to develop their cognitive and metacognitive skills. Some of the key teaching strategies for applying the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model, as well as its possible application in eLearning course design, are presented below:
Modeling involves an expert demonstrating a concept or task so that learners are able to gain in depth understanding of how it is done. This builds upon their previous experience and allows them to build a mental conceptual model of the specific process. Tutorials can serve as models in eLearning course design. Learners, before performing a specific eLearning activity, are able to watch tutorials, either in the form of videos, in which a subject matter expert explains the concept or process, or as screen recording demonstrations, that give step-by-step guidance on what learners are expected to achieve themselves in order to meet the learning objectives of the online course. In practice, the latter is widely used in the instructional design of online software training courses.
Coaching occurs when a subject matter expert allows learners to perform the task in question and then offers them feedback on their performance. This enables learners to understand what they may want to do differently to improve upon their skills and how they may advance to the next level in their field. Applied to eLearning, the integration of social media elements, such as chats and discussion boards, in which learners can get feedback not only from the online facilitator, but also from their peers, works towards this direction. The same is applicable for any type of synchronous eLearning via virtual learning sessions.
Scaffolding refers to the act of implementing strategies and methods that serve to enhance learners’ educational experience. This can be in the form of activities, group tasks and games. During the activity, instructors observe learners and assess their skills and knowledge acquired. Any type of social interaction in eLearning, through online group projects and joint activities, may be considered as application of the scaffolding strategy, with the online instructor serving as a facilitator during the learning process. Gamification is another possible application of scaffolding in eLearning, as learning objectives can be mastered through learners’ interaction with the eLearning content in an amusing way and their comparative results with peers in leaderboards may motivate them to try harder.
Articulation occurs when the instructor encourages learners to articulate what they know about the eLearning content or concepts, as well as what they did during the problem solving process. The more frequently used types of articulation are: inquiry learning, critical thinking and thinking out loud. In synchronous eLearning settings, articulation may occur in exactly the same way, as the online presence of the instructor makes no particular difference to the application of the strategy. Online facilitators are still able to ask learners to express their way of thinking in order to solve problems presented in the eLearning course. They are also able to provide feedback and guide learners towards the correct direction by giving them tips on how to proceed. In asynchronous eLearning, however, although articulation is difficult to be applied in terms of “thinking aloud”, the aim is for learners to rationalize upon the answers they have selected during problem-solving oriented eLearning activities and give reasons why they have selected a particular answer or approach. Their reasoning should be of equal importance for the online course facilitators as the answer itself. On the other hand, an instructional design for eLearning based on Discovery Learning is an obvious application of the Inquiry Learning approach, based on which, eLearning tasks and activities should provide learners with opportunities to go through a series of questions that need to be answered, in order for them to be able to formulate an explicit conceptional model for the situation under study. Such an approach could be applicable both to synchronous and asynchronous eLearning.
Reflection enables learners to compare their problem solving skills to those of an expert or peer. One way to do this is for the instructor to analyze how a student solved a problem, followed by an explanation of how the expert solved the same problem, then noting what was done differently or the same. In eLearning, again this may happen via tutorials that can be accesses by learners as many times as they like, in order for them to compare their actual performance with the one proposed by the subject matter expert.
Last, but not least, exploration takes place when learners are encouraged to solve problems on their own, as well as instructing them on new strategies that they can use to explore the problem. This enables learners to contextualize problems and then work to solve these problems in real world settings. Discovery learning designs in eLearning also work towards this direction. Learners are presented with challenging online tasks with the potential use of a pedagogical agent serving as online help, giving them tips on how to proceed, when needed. The pedagogical agent can adapt the frequency of its appearance depending on learners’ progress on the task.
Apply the principles of the Situated Cognition Theory and use the eLearning tips I gave you for integrating the teaching strategies involved in the Cognitive Apprenticeship Model to the instructional design of your next eLearning course, to provide your audience with a memorable eLearning experience.
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- Collins, A. (1988). Cognitive Apprenticeship and Instructional technology. (Technical Report No. 6899). BBN Labs Inc., Cambridge, MA.
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- Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments. Article by Ghefaili.