Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-41. [Available online at ].

What is learning?  Broadly speaking, situated views of cognition argue that learning and knowing are fundamentally inextricable from and dependent upon the contexts and activities in which they arise.  Thus, learning tends to be viewed as a continuous process resulting from ones’ ongoing activity wherein the knowledge one produces is said to index the activities and situations in which it was produced.  In this way, the meaning of a learned concept continually evolves as a function of the instances in which it is used.

What is learned?  What is distributed?  The techniques, practices, tools (including both physical artifacts and lexical items), and world-views of a particular community

How is it learned?  Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) suggest a pedagogical model known as cognitive apprenticeship.  In this model, students are enculturated into the techniques, practices, tools, and world-views of a particular community.  Specifically, students observe and engage in the authentic activities, or the ordinary-everyday activities, of a community.  The idea here is that if learning and knowing are inseparable from the contexts and activities in which they arise and if we want students to develop the understandings of a particular community, then students must be given opportunities to observe and engage in the ordinary practices of that community.  For, as students observe and engage in these ordinary-everyday activities, they develop knowledge about and understandings of the talk, beliefs, and behaviors of the community.

How are the distributions mediated?  The techniques, practices, tools, and world-views of a particular community reflect the cumulative wisdom of the community.  Knowledge of them is not static and invariant.  Rather, it is the product of the ongoing negotiation and evolution of the community.  For example, world-views are shaped by knowledge and understanding of tools; at the same time, knowledge and understanding of tools are shaped by the world-views—as one evolves, so does the other.

Other important points?  Some Pedagogical Implications: (a) teachers attend to the ways in which classroom activities do and do not reflect the authentic activities of a particular community; and (b) teachers build upon and extend the ordinary-everyday understandings that students enter the classroom with.  Some Research Implications: (a) researchers should expand the unit of analysis from the individual to the more encompassing contextual environment; and (b) researchers should use methods which allow them to develop a rich understanding of the contextual environment (e.g., long-term ethnographic studies).

(Annotated by Jaime Diamond, Spring 2011)