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Wk 4 - Situated Cognition and Culture of Learning

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Edited by Clair Hattle, Saturday, 26 Feb 2011, 14:41


JSB, Allan Collins, Paul Duguid argue that knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used. (Propose Cognitive Apprenticeship - embeds learning in activity and makes deliberate use of the social and physical context.)

Nice reference to Miller and Gildea's (1987) work on learning vocab and how students get it wrong when they work from dictionary definitions only e.g. She stimulated the soup. Also only learn up to 200 words per year compared to 5000 when contextualised.

Learning and Tools:

Tools share several significant features with knowledge: They can only be fully understood through use, and changing them entails changing the user's view of the world and adopting the belief system of the culture in which they are used.

This could refer to some ELLs acquisition of explicit grammar rules, but inability to use them when communicating. This sounds like JSB's -"learning to be". This 'enculturalisation' is what trainees do on a CELTA - they have 'the chance to observe and practice in situ the behaviour of members of a culture, pick up the relevant jargon, imitate behaviour and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms.'

Authentic Activity:

"take learning to be a process of enculturation.."

This authentic activity is beginning to sound a little like loop input too. This H800 course is so successful because we are learning about the topic in the style of the topic. We are being encultured as we learn.

Classroom learning is ersatz activity, and no replacement for authentic activities.

JPFs (just plain folks) and practitioners 'more inventive than students'. "Knowing and doing were inter-locked and inseperable."

Structuring Activity:

"Knowledge is indexical in that it indexes the situation in which it arises and is used. The embedding circumstances efficiently provide essential parts of its structure and meaning."

"This is evident in the ability to perform tasks that cannot be described or remembered in the absence of the situation." I get this with things on a computer - trying to describe where to find things e.g. helping my mum with her laptop over the phone.

Learning Through Cognitice Apprenticeship:

Schoenfield teaching problem solving skills - actually teaching his students the techniques and not stopping at the right answer. "In most classes, so-called 'problems' are exercises; you are done when you've shown that you've mastered the relevant technique by getting the answer." His goal was to understand the mathematical nature of the problem and led to less-common classroom practice of having more than one way to solve a problem.

Lampert's multiplication teaching:

a) intuitive knowledge - short cuts for doing problems in authentic settings

b) computational knowledge - basic algorithims taught

c) concrete knowledge - concrete models of algorithims associated with stories students created

d) principled knowledge - principles such as associativity and commutativity that underlie the algorithmic manipulations of numbers

The idea was to inculcate an inseperable understanding of these kinds of knowledge and the connections between them, to bridge the huge gap that emerges from conventional teaching between conceptual knowledge and problem solving activity. (Sounds like when you study maths and think "the only time I'd ever need this is to become a maths teacher!")

Characteristics of Cognitive Apprenticeship:

  • By beginning with a task embedded in a familiar activity, it shows students the legitimacy of their implicit knowledge and its availability as scaffolding in apparently unfamiliar tasks.
  • By pointing to different decompositions, it stresses that heuristics are not absolute, but assessed with respect to a particular task - and that even algorithims can be assessed in this way.
  • By allowing students to generate their own solution paths, it helps make them conscious, creative members of the culture of problem-solving mathermaticians. And in enculturating through this activity, they acquire some of the culture's tools - a shared vocabulary and the means to discuss, reflect upon, evaluate and validate community procedures in a collaborative process.


"Apprenticeship and coaching in a domain begin by providing modelling in situ and scaffolding for students to get started in an authentic activity. As students gain more self-confidence and control, they move into a more autonomous phase of collaborative learning, where they begin to participate consciously in the culture.

The social network within the culture helps them develop its language and the belief systems and promotes the process of enculturation. Collaboration also leads to articulation of strategies, which can then be discussed and reflected on.

This, in turn, fosters generalising, grounded in the students' situated understanding. From here students can use their fledgling conceptual knowledge in activity, seeing that activity in a new light, which in turn leads to further development of the conceptial knowledge."

Apprenticeship and Cognition:

The term apprenticeship helps to emphasise the centrality of activity in learning and knowledge and highlights the inherently context-dependent, situated and enculturating nature of learning.

Cognitive emphasises that apprenticeship techniques reach well beyond the physical skills usually associated with apprenticeship to the kinds of cognitive skills more normally associated with conventional schooling.

Legitimate Peripheral Participation - where people who are not taking part directly in a particular activity learn a great deal from their legitimate postion on the periphery. (This sounds exactly like vicarious learning to me...?)

Group Learning:

* Collective problem solving * Displaying multiple roles * Confronting ineffective strategies and misconceptions * Providing collaborative work skills



What should be made explicit in teaching and what should be left implicit?

Indexical (deictic) representations gain their efficiency by leaving much of the context underrepresented or implicit.

[All the work in this area is to some degree built upon work of Vygotsky, Leontiev, Jean Lave and others.'




  • As this paper was written more than 20 years ago, how has its central message held up? What lasting value does this paper have today?

I think the message is still important now - it seems illogical to try to separate learning from the context/culture in which it occurs. To do so keeps the pedagogy archaic and I believe, causes us to test, test, test and always knowledge as acquisition, usually individually than look at what learners can actually do when it counts.

  • If you had to summarise the authors’ arguments in a short paragraph what would you write?

Probably the above.

'In the same way that it's more difficult to describe the way to cook an excellent meal and the tools you'd use, any learning should be given the opportunity to occur in the setting in which that knowledge will be used. That will provide greater recall of the process and actually make the learning valuable, both to the learner and to society at large because they will be able to use it in the 'culture' in which it should be used.

  • In the late capitalism of the twenty-first century, is apprenticeship still a relevant model for learning? Try and think in terms of the kinds of knowledge required for the work that is common in a modern economy.

I think people really went quite far off the 'apprenticeship' track and wanted certificates and qualifications of their 'knowledge' whereas now, I think a need is being felt for vocational training and for people with 'know how' over 'know what'. This is expecially true in the UAE which wants to be a knowledge based economy but is finding too many people wanting the top management level with lots of MAs or PHDs but no practical, utilisable skills!

In week 2, activity 10 Sukaina mentioned a similar increase in vocational training needs: "I think the growth in corporate and professional qualifications via the distance learning method indicates that distance learning is gaining in stature and credibility."


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