Posted by: MandyS | March 6, 2013

“Situated cognition and the culture of learning”

Block 1, Week 4, Activity 2 Brown et al.’s paper, Situated cognition and the culture of learning

An interesting paper which seeks to determine that both knowing and doing are an integral part of learning and that the two cannot be separated. By using an example of learning words in isolation and learning them in context via general communication, Brown et al argue that ‘understanding develops through situated use’. As the last activity in defining learning revealed, how learning is defined is very much dependent on its context. Generally speaking, learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge but to Psychologists it is much more than that; it is also about resultant changes in behaviour, something which is not immediately apparent by having regard to the dictionary definitions. Looking at how learning is defined in different contexts allows ones understanding of its meaning to develop. It is this ‘situated use’ which allows concepts to ‘continually develop’.

Situated use appears then to be based on ‘activity’. Brown et al. go on to argue that this situated use has to be ‘authentic’ i.e. based on ‘what practitioner’s do’ rather than artificial. This is on the basis that ‘conceptual knowledge is like a set of tools’ and how the tools are used depends on knowledge of the community and culture within which they are used. So to that end, learning is a process of ‘enculturation of the learner in authentic practices’ by means of ‘activity and social interaction’. The vehicle for this being ‘cognitive apprenticeships’.

So what can I conclude about this in terms of my own tutoring? From my own experience, how law is applied in practice and how law is applied by solicitors/barristers in practice is very different; one only has to be involved in court proceedings to see this. My own students then not only need to be able to apply law to given situations, they also need to experience ‘law in action’.





  1. And would your students benefit from watching /observing court cases and would this fit Cox’s definition of vicarious learning?

    • Student’s would benefit from seeing ‘professionals’ in action i.e. how law is applied in reality. But to me this is not vicarious learning because they are not observing the learning experience of others; unless the argument is that one is learning all the time so even the professionals undergo a learning experience every time they appear in court? Vicarious learning would be student’s observing a ‘mock’ trial undertaken by other students or observing others presenting ‘mock’ remand applications.

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