Situated Cognition In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know
Instructional Design

Situated Cognition In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

Context is key to creating successful eLearning experiences. Learners must be able to put their knowledge to use outside the virtual classroom, and simulating real world challenges is one of the best ways to achieve this. In this article, I’ll shed light on the situated cognition theory, from its core principles to tips that will help you use it in your next eLearning course.

Situated cognition is based on the idea that learning is most effective when it is in context. The Situation Cognition Theory was first introduced by Brown, Collins, and Duguid in 1989, who suggest that learners should be immersed in eLearning activities and content that mimics real world situations.

For example, if an individual needs to learn how to complete a complex task, learning by doing is more effective than simply reading out it in a manual. Cognitive Apprenticeships and communities of practice also go hand-in-hand with situated cognition.

Below you’ll find 4 best practices and 5 tips that can help you integrate situated cognition into your eLearning strategy.

4 Situated Cognition Best Practices

According to J. Herrington and Ron Oliver’s publication, “Critical Characteristics of Situated Learning: Implications for the Instructional Design of Multimedia”, situated learning experiences must meet specific set of criteria in order to achieve desired results. These best practices are inspired by Herrington and Oliver’s guidelines:

  1. Authentic context and activities.
    The content must have real world applications, as well as activities that mimic real world situations and problems. Ideally, all elements should be as realistic as possible to provide accurate context for learners.
  2. Expert support.
    Experts or experienced professionals must be on-hand to offer guidance and support to learners. They must also provide an accurate model of the process, such as a detailed walkthrough. The expert typically offers coaching and scaffolding as well, which comes in the form of supplement learning resources.
  3. Group collaboration and self-reflection.
    Learners are encouraged to work in group settings, wherein they can benefit from the personal experience of peers, share differing viewpoints, and take on different roles. However, they must also have the opportunity to reflect upon their own work and compare their performance to that of their peers and experts.
  4. Articulation and assessments.
    Learners should be able to articulate, by paraphrasing, what they have learned, and an effective eLearning assessment strategy should be in place that tests authentic knowledge. For example, a simulation that analyzes their ability to carry out the task.

5 Tips To Use Situated Cognition In eLearning

1. Foster learning communities of practice.

A community of practice works collaboratively to solve problems and achieve shared goals. Learners have the unique opportunity to share their experience with others, and benefit from the expertise and skills of their peers in return. They can also interact with the instructor or facilitator to expand their comprehension of the process or task.

Develop a learning community of practice in your eLearning course by creating online forums, blogs, and social media pages where you learners can share feedback and address concerns. Pose a question based on the authentic task each week to get the online discussion started, or share a link that might spark a conversation amongst them.

2. Integrate real world scenarios and simulations.

eLearning scenarios and simulations are one of the most authentic learning tools available. They immerse learners in real world environments, pitting them against real world challenges, without the real world risk. They can explore every aspect of a task, master each step in a process, and identify their key strengths and weaknesses in a supportive eLearning setting.

Experts and peers can also provide feedback that helps improve performance. When developing eLearning scenarios and simulations, make certain that the situation, characters, and virtual environment are as true-to-life as possible. Use images that are relatable and challenges that they might encounter on a daily basis.

3. Use case studies to put knowledge into context.

When learners are able to see that the task or concepts can be tied to real world applications, they are much more likely to participate. For example, if you include an article or case study that highlights the benefits of mastering the task or absorbing the information, learners are able to determine how the subject matter can be used in real life.

They personalize it and put it into context, which makes it easier for them to recall necessary information when they actually have to complete the task outside of the eLearning environment.

4. Model the learning behavior or task.

One of the most important elements of Situated Cognition in eLearning is modeling. The expert walks the learner through every step of the process so that they can see the process in action. This can be accomplished by integrating tutorials, video presentations, and step-by-step walkthroughs that highlight every aspect of the task.

Make certain to have supplemental scaffolding resources at the ready for learners who may need more information before tackling the task themselves.

5. Develop authentic online assessments.

Authentic online assessments test learner knowledge while they are immersed in the activity itself. For example, they might have to complete a scenario that features every step of the process, or to engage a group role-play that tests their understanding of the concepts.

Rather than giving them a series of multiple choice or true/false questions to answer, they must use all of the tools, skills, and information they have developed to solve the problem or complete the task on their own. All scaffolding resources are removed and they must explore all possible solutions without any assistance.

This not only assesses their knowledge and abilities, but gives them the confidence they need to fulfill the task in the real world.

Successful situated cognition eLearning experiences put everything into context. They give the learner the opportunity to see knowledge in action, instead of just passively observing the possible applications. This is what makes it such a powerful approach in eLearning course design, and why you may want to think about using it in your next eLearning project.

Looking for tips that can help you design branching scenarios for your situated cognition online course? Read the article The Top 7 Benefits Of Using Branching Scenarios In eLearning to learn about the many advantages offered by using branching scenarios in eLearning course design.

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