Situated Learning in Adult Education


Situated learning as a form of instructional learning assumes that learning does not take place in isolation but by doing. Knowledge is imparted to the learners when they create meaning from the activities they engage in unlike traditional or cognitive learning that originates from the abstract (Stein, 1998). Learning is performed in laboratories as classrooms where students take part in the learning process. For adults, on-the-job training is a perfect example of situated learning. The situated learning process is characterized by directions which the learner is required to execute. Paul Cobb and Janet Bowers argue that situational learning should be based on real life situations that the learner can relate to (Cobb & Bowers, 1999).

Put differently, situated learning positions the student in the middle of an instructional process consisting within the context of appropriate environment which assists the learner to develop and negotiate meaning. As such, the situated learning model may not be very fruitful if the learners work in isolation. Preferably the learners should work in groups for the effective learning (Cobb & Bowers, 1999). In a group, the learners are able to negotiate an understanding for themselves through debating and presenting their arguments with the others (Cobb & Bowers, 1999).

While they also contend that this position may be unsubstantiated, they add that the classroom relation between theory and practice is itself situated learning. This may be used to imply that the definition of situated leaning does not hinge on actual and real physical participation of the learner in the learning activities (Cobb & Bowers, 1999). Hilary McLellan identifies stories, reflection, apprenticeship, collaboration, coaching, multiple practice, articulation and skills as the components of situated learning (McLellan, 1996).

Notably, stories are important in imparting knowledge and helping remember what has been learnt. They are effective tools in helping the learner link the theory and the reality (McLellan, 1996). This may occur when a situation arises and the learner employs a story in understanding that specific situation. Regarding the reflective component, McLellan (1996) notes that the learning process is effective when a model allows instructors provide assistance to the learners within the learning environment.

That is still not enough as the process should be finalized by an assessment to confirm that learning took place. The situated learning model is the best in formation of a learning environment characterized by both experimental and reflective aspects of the learning process (McLellan, 1996). While situational learning may involve self-direction in problem solving tasks, the teacher will be required to provide assistance whenever need arises for the learning to continue.

The act of the teacher being a guide and not a boss has been described as the coaching component (McLellan, 1996). Lastly, situational learning may not be successful if a supporting component is not available to complement the rest of the components. This need elevates technology as an important component of situational learning (McLellan, 1996). For instance, reflection may be done by the student replaying performances on a computer screen.

Situational learning puts emphasis on the relation between what is learned in a classroom and what is needed outside the classroom. On the same line, the success of situational learning occurs when the learner is able to link what they know to real-life situations. Consequently, it becomes evident that situational learning may not be fruitful for child learners who may not be having the foundational theoretical knowledge or even ability to work out a problem through reason.

However, some scholars argue that situational learning can be effective if used to teach mathematics or science subjects to children. In contrast, situational learning is arguably the best compared to traditional learning when teaching adults in colleges or in job training. This may be reasoned from the fact that for adults it is the gain in real experience in their field of study that matters. Moreover, adults will already be having the background theoretical knowledge which will make it easy to craft the link between a specific practical scenario and what they already know.

It then emerges that situated learning may be well suited and very beneficial for higher education and adult learners. Since many adults go to school in order to gain a better job, I believe that having courses and apprenticeships with “hands-on” projects would prepare students more effectively for the job(s) they hope to acquire upon graduation. It would also save money on elective classes and those classes that are currently required in order to give students a more well-rounded education.


Cobb, P., & Bowers, J. (1999). Cognitive and situated learning perspectives in theory and practice. Educational researcher, 28(2), 4-15.

McLellan, H. (Ed.). (1996). Situated learning perspectives. Educational Technology.

Stein, D. (1998). Situated Learning in Adult Education. ERIC Digest No. 195.

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