Situated Learning Theory


Situated Learning Theory (SLT)—originally forwarded by Lave & Wengner (1990) — develops the notion that learning occurs through active engagement within contextual experience. In other words, classrooms designed specifically for learning may be antithetical to the ideas contained in SLT because the core concept in SLT is learning as an unintentional process.  A student’s experience merges with their conceptual and intellectual adaptation to the situational context. Therefore, the student can potentially learn from the people, place, and objects in the international environment in addition to learning from the faculty member who is formally assigned to the course.  For some faculty, the situated nature of international engagement and service-learning may rattle their personal understanding of the situated role of educator:

A disciplinary tradition of teaching and learning may put the emphasis on the faculty as expert, but experiences working with community partners quickly reveal the wealth of expertise offered by community leaders who may lack traditional academic credentials.  For some faculty, this may challenge their confidence and create uncertainty about community needs, assets, and priorities.  Faculty may have the disciplinary base of knowledge, but may need to develop new strategies for responding to the shifting needs of community work and usually need to learn to share power and control over the research enterprise” (Gelmon, S.B., 2007, p. 248).

As students adapt to situate themselves within the newness of an international context, so must faculty adapt to their shifting role as educator.  Situated Learning Theory, when applied to international service-learning, places significant importance on an increased capacity of the community partner as co-educator;  similarly, in ethical explorations of internationally engaged scholarship, the importance of situating community-partners as co-educators is paramount.