What is Situated Learning?

situated learning award illustration

In the book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Lave and Wenger argue that knowledge is situated in a specific context and meaning making occurs through interactions within that world with others. They describe situated learning through four different means: person, activity, knowledge, and the social world.

From a situated learning perspective, the person is transformed into a practitioner whose changing knowledge, skill, and discourse are part of a developing identity – in short, a member of a community of practice. Situated learning activity is transformed into legitimate participation in communities of practice.

Situated Learning Handouts


Knowing is inherent in the growth and information of identities, and it is located in relations among practice, the artifacts of that practice, and the social organization and political economy of communities of practice. All of this takes place in a social world dialectically constituted in social practices that are in the process of reproduction, transformation, and change.

Lave & Wenger. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press: New York, NY.

Engage will be implementing the Engage Adaptation Situated Learning: Case, Story, and Place Award during the 2012-2013 academic year. Award participants will remove barriers to authentic learning contexts by using digital media. Instructors of all disciplines will experiment with ways in which courses can be taught in a more situated manner.

Effectively, learners will be moved along a spectrum from abstract theoretical concepts to engagement with more concrete, real world experiences/scenarios. This award aims to situate the learner in an environment that represents the real world as best as possible.

Situated Learning Genres

Interactive Case Scenario

An interactive case scenario is a narrative form in which the learner is put in a realistic situation and asked to make choices to determine how the story should proceed. This kind of activity takes abstract concepts like principles or best practices and re-situates them within an invented narrative in which the learner has a specific role and the outcome is not known.

The goal of a interactive case scenario is to simulate a realistic process, problem, or narrative and show the consequences of different choices. It also may demonstrate a particular instance in which generally accepted principles or laws are found to be more complex than usual.

Interactive case scenarios are successful when the resulting student experience reflects the realities and complexities of professional practice. A professional should be able to interact with a interactive case and remark, “This sounds like a day in my life.”

Situated Documentary



Add side box with embedded link to video on situated documentary

A situated documentary is a non-fictional historical or contemporary narrative in which the player will interact with virtual characters, objects, and media. It is different from the interactive case scenario in that an actual event is being recreated from primary sources. Within a situated documentary, the overall outcome is fixed, because the event happened in a particular way. Even though the narrative is fixed, the learner is still able to make choices that affect how they will experience the event.

The goal of a situated documentary is to present an accurate historical perspective of a complex event.

Situated documentaries are successful when they are able to capture the complexities and subtleties of the topic, avoiding oversimplification of the different people’s goals or perspectives. A good situated documentary should inspire questions and discussion that could be applied to other issues, not project a set of values on an event that has already taken place.

Field Research



A field research activity places students in the role of researchers, collecting primary source information. This includes a variety of data such as field notes, interviews, photographs, and videos. The primary source material collected by the student is then analyzed, categorized, and visualized in a way that demonstrates or highlights the surrounding course curriculum.

The goal of a field research activity can include:

  • providing a situated experience of gathering field data using the values and principles of the given discipline; and/or
  • confirming a theoretical phenomenon through student-collected, primary data.

Field research projects will be successful when they are able to reflect the discipline-specific values and methods of gathering and evaluating observations. The “field” for this work should be as similar to the sites used in contemporary professional practice.