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Situated and Networked Learning Approaches


Critics have over the years debated on the benefits and limitations of both situated and networked learning approaches. Some have gone further to argue that the two approaches can complement each other for the benefit of the learner and the educator. This essay seeks to analyze the two approaches (situated and networked) and highlight their limitations and benefits. I will address the question by analyzing the two approaches separately.

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I will use various secondary sources to both support and critique my arguments. The conclusion part of the essay will then give a detailed analysis of why the two approaches should combine to complement each other. The overall analysis and debate advanced through this essay are that whereas both situated and networked approaches have benefits, a combined approach of the two methodologies will enhance the learning experience for both the student and the tutor.

Situated Learning Approach

Situated Learning Approach is simply defined as the acquiring of professional skills through an apprenticeship that not only focuses on the individual child but on the child’s place within his or her society. This means that the learner mainly uses observation and practice to learn. Interestingly, unlike the definition suggestions, there are some schools that have adopted a situated learning approach to teaching children.

This approach to learning is heavily influenced by the words of Jean Lave and Etienne Charles Wenger. Despite the short and precise definition stated, Esteban-Guitart and Moll (2013) explain that situated learning concepts revolve around individual identity and how that identity relates to the learning environment a learner interacts with during the learning period. There are various scholars that have over the years debated on the benefits and limitations of this approach. This section of the essay analyzes these benefits and limitations.

Benefits of Situated Learning Approach

According to Alcock (2010), situated learning is very expressive. The scholar analyzes the impact of the approach on children and concludes that children learn faster through the situated approach. The children in her experiment were able to also fully express themselves using their experiences and their environment. Additionally, Alcock (2010) explains that the involved children not only learned from each other but also from the environment around them, making their learning experience richer and more wholesome. One can argue that the social interaction nature of situated learning is beneficial as it allows both the learner and the teacher to understand the concepts and mindsets of others.

The second benefit of situated learning is that it easily documents the evolution of the learning process (Baron, 2009). To some extent, situated learning makes it easier for people to track their progress. Lave and Wenger describe this process as “legitimate peripheral participation” (Baron, 2009). Once the student learns, he or she becomes a valued member of that particular community of practice (CoP) and coaches others on the same (Wenger, 2010). Towards this end, one can also argue that situated learning is very sustainable.

Thirdly, situated learning enables reciprocity. This refers to the fact that everyone involved contributes to the learning process. Brennan (2007) argues that the reciprocity in learning in the situational approach enhances the importance of sociocultural support in learning. Other alternative approaches to learning to embrace the idea of group work. This proves that learning is a collaborative effort. The approach pulls together like-minded people.

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Thus, it also has a more viable impact on the progression of the profession. Brennan (2007) goes further to use the Marxist school of thought to explain why children often imitate adults. The scholar argues that they do so due to an innate need to learn by doing. Situated learning can be tied to this school of thought as it embraces the innate need of learning by doing.

Limitations of Situated Learning Approach

Despite the benefits highlighted in the previous section, there are scholars that have raised concern over the reliability, viability, and practicability of the situated learning approach. One of the limitations of this approach is that it is not practical in the traditional learning set-up. As Gee (2008) notes, the traditional learning set-up involves having mental representations of activities and actions and implementing these later on in life.

The scholar goes further to state that the learning environment has a significant influence on a child’s education. Indeed, the writer proves that there are connections between the learner and his or her surroundings, a concept that is also arguably encouraged through the situated learning concept. As mentioned earlier, situated learning is a collaborative effort. Even though alternative learning methods include group learning, individual coaching is often stressed. Therefore, one can argue that for situated learning to be impactful, the whole structure of the education system has to be changed. This will need a change in policy and legislature, which might take a long time.

A second limitation of situated learning is its impact on the teaching profession. Currently, teachers embrace a wholesome school culture (Brennan, 2007). The teachers will have to embrace individual and group-specific cultures. In turn, the teachers will have to ensure that specific targets are met by the end of their lessons. Realistically, this might take a long time as individuals study and learn at different rates. In the traditional classroom, the differences in learning are highlighted through different GPAs and grades.

A third limitation of the approach is that it is context-specific. This premise suggests that individuals might not be able to think creatively when in a different context. This is due to the fact that the said individuals would be used to doing a task in one specific way. Mackey and Evans (2011) argue that whereas his approach is context-specific, it also allows the students to create more and wider connections and networks. It does not in any way discourage learning outside the “boundaries” of the CoPs (Mackey & Evans, 2011).

Networked Learning Approach

According to Jones, Ferreday, and Hodgson (2008), the networked learning approach embraces connections between people and information. Indeed, like Duran, Runvand, and Fossum (2009) denote, the networked learning approach relies, to some extent, on technology. However, there are cases where technology is not used despite the said approach being employed. Levy (2006) goes further to explain that in this approach, the students learn both from each other and from the learning resources provided.

One of the major differences between situated and networked learning approaches is that situated learning does not focus entirely on the learning resources used. It is important to point out that in networked learning, the learning resources are often digital or tech-based. This section of the essay looks into the advantages and disadvantages of the networked learning approach.

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Benefits of Networked Learning Approach

One major benefit of the networked learning approach is that it enables functional efficiency for learning institutions. One can argue that functional efficiency encourages ease to learn as it does not require much cost implications. Connected students can learn using the same resources, making the approach very cost-efficient. Additionally, as Hodges (1998) argues, situational learning can cause an identity crisis where the student does not know which point of the learning process makes him or her viable to teach others.

The networked approach offers a solution to this challenge as it has s systematic method of not only tracking progress but also qualifying learners to the next level. This also relates to the structure and interpretation of the curriculum. Drexler (2010) confirms that the networked approach ensures a centrally managed curriculum. The main advantage of a centrally managed curriculum is that it monitors the quality of the education given and the standard of future professionals.

Secondly, the networked learning approach is more affordable and time-effective. This is especially true with digital learning resources. For example, a digital library can be used by more students compared to a physical library. Additionally, in the digital library, one book can be accessed by many students in different places. This is not the case with a physical book. Students, thus, do not have to spend a lot of time looking for study materials as their learning resources are very accommodative (Alcock, 2010).

The fact that this approach also allows for informal learning is also an advantage. The informal learning set-ups such as online discussion forums can be joined at one’s own convenience. On the same note, the networked learning approach gives the student to power to structure his or her own learning. The learning resources are availed at all times, making it easier for students to learn at their own convenience. To ensure that targets are met, deadlines, assignments, and tests are used to guide the learners.

Mackey and Evans (2011) also argue that interconnecting networks of practice ensure effective professional learning. The researchers denote that networked learning is very adaptable. It can, thus, be easily implemented through the situated learning approach. The premise suggests that the networked approach be customized to fit within the situated learning school of thought as it can enhance the experience of collaborative learning.

Limitations of Networked Learning Approach

The networked approach has several limitations. First, since it relies on technology to some extent, it cannot be implemented in some areas. Whereas the world has fully embraced technology, some countries and even states are yet to use technology in education. Distance learning, for instance, is only reserved for some courses at the university and college level (Gonzalez, 2009). Students in high school might have access to digitalized learning resources, but they do not have distance learning. One might argue that networked learning does not have to use technology. Whereas this is true, learning resources that are not technologically enhanced often result in the embracing of situated learning.

Another limitation of the networked approach is that many people believe that it has to be institutionalized in order to work, whereas this is not true (Drexler, 2010). Time management in the networked approach is challenging. Learners have to fully understand that they take control of the learning process, thus, have to manage their study time well. It is perhaps this reason that encourages the use of this approach in higher-level learning as opposed to high school. It is assumed that learners in colleges are mature and understand the necessity of proper time management, and can, therefore, handle networked learning. However, in an ideal learning environment, the approach would be institutionalized to ensure that students learn effectively.

Thirdly, the approach is limited by the fact that it is very systematic (Iyer & Reese, 2013). For learning to occur, all parts involved in the process shave to work seamlessly. This means that arrangements of tasks, learning tools, and the targeted people have to be fully involved in the process. In discussion forums, for example, teachers and tutors have to be present whenever the students are online to guide the discussions.

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The argument is based on the fact that learning resources that support networking learning can host large data that students can easily access. Some of these data are not factual and may negatively affect learning. Thus, tutors have to be fully involved to ensure that the information the students get and use is valid. Iyer and Reese (2013, p. 36) add that “Instead of mere collegiality, there has to be a purposeful attempt to acknowledge the difference.”

Learning Communities

Both the situated and networked approaches have learning communities. Hodges (1998) explains that learning communities are made up of like-minded academicians who meet, either physically or virtually, regularly and have the same academic goals. This section looks into the different elements of the learning communities in both situated and networked learning approaches.

Situated Learning Communities

In the situated learning approach, learning communities are referred to as communities of practice (Hodges, 1998). These communities of practice, as the name suggests, meet purely to practice their craft. Alcock (2010) explains that such learning communities are very physical. For instance, chefs might meet in the kitchen to learn as they cook. Gardeners can meet in the garden where they learn, and the landscape at the same time, and so forth. This idea is borrowed from the cultural aspect of apprenticeship. It is crucial to point out that learners interact with each other, with tutors, and with their environment to develop their craft.

It is also important to note that learning communities in the situated approach are often social as well. Due to this, many critics believe that this approach is best suited for informal education. As Hodges (1998) notes, Lave and Wenger propose that communities of practice should not be institutionalized. This is because the learning communities cannot be supported by the current education system.

Whereas the learning environment currently allows for group work (social collaboration), the system does not bring together people with the same academic and career goals. Students end up doing different things when they grow up, and specialization of careers and courses only comes later on in their advanced education.

Barron (2007) explains that situated learning communities are a great way to explore how previous behaviors and experiences affect interactions later on in life. The author explains that the cognitive process of children can be used to determine the innate desire of human beings to learn by doing. He argues that situated learning (for children) allows them to remember how to act or behave as they have been mentored (physically) in that manner.

The premise goes further to prove why situated learning is best suited for informal learning. The level of participation in these learning communities is very progressive as one moves clearly from one level of education to another. This relates to the fact that newcomers into the learning community are normally tasked with non-crucial jobs. At first, the newcomers learn through observation. They are then tested with more prominent and important tasks as they grow. This progressive nature ensures that the learners understand each step in the process.

According to Cooper and Hedges (2014), participation (as defined in the situated learning communities) alone cannot lead to satisfactory learning. The authors suggest the additional use of analytical frameworks and guidelines to ensure learning (Cooper & Hedges, 2014). This is particularly important for teachers and tutors. Many children in a kindergarten start their learning experience with beliefs and cultural values they have learned in their communities. Tutors have to develop a framework that allows for both positive situated learning and accommodation of these personal cultural beliefs.

Networked Learning Communities

Unlike situated learning communities, networked learning communities bring together different types of learning institutions (and their students). Gonzalez (2009) explains that networked learning institutions involve a group of schools that seek to enhance both individual student learning and school-to-school collaboration, but this might not always be the case. These learning communities have three main agendas. The first agenda is to capacity build and further enhance the quality of education offered by the participating schools. The schools will not only learn from each other but will also adopt each other’s working strategies. The combination of strategies and teaching frameworks is also beneficial to the students as they directly interact with different versions of the same educational system.

Thorpe and Kubiak (2005) argue that leadership for learning is a key advantage of networked learning communities. In the networked setting, both students and tutors interact directly. Despite this, learners have to lead themselves as the nature of their learning resources is very individualized. This means that students take control of their own learning. The process cultures a leadership trait in the learners.

Gonzalez (2009) states that this trait becomes more useful in the workplace later on after the students graduate. It is interesting to note that many of the discussions and debates on networked learning communities documented are only for graduate students. This is unlike situated learning communities, which have research representations from kindergarten to universities. Thus, more research is needed in relation to networked learning communities in junior schools in order to compare them more effectively with situated learning communities.

Thorpe and Kubiak (2005) confirm that networked learning communities can only work if they embrace six strands. The six strands are pupil, adult, leadership, organizational, school-to-school, and network-to-network learning (Gonzalez, 2009). The pupil learning trait focuses on pedagogical concerns, while adult learning focuses on the ability of the student to monitor and advance their own education (without direct and constant supervision). Additionally, such type of learning also enhances adult studying as it introduces the impact of having role models (or ideal supervisors such as headteachers) in the learning community.

The headteachers, and other similar personnel, act as mentors to the student and also guide the process. Organizational learning revolves around the redesign of the learning structures and the policies and guidelines that support it, while school-to-school learning involves sharing and adopting best practices. Lastly, network-to-network learning focuses on a programmatic approach to the whole system and how it impacts the learner’s progression (Thorpe & Kubiak, 2005).

Role of Professional Educator within the Learning Communities

The role of the professional educator is still crucial in both the situated and networked learning approaches. Iyer and Reese (2013) argue that situated learning communities fully depend on the system’s ability to accommodate the newcomers. Towards this end, professional educators are crucial to ensure the newcomers both feel welcome into the learning community and start off on the right track. The educator has a central role in the situated learning approach (Iyer & Reese, 2013).

Using this argument, one can argue that a transmissive form of learning is not encouraged in this approach. Each stage has its own educator, and he or she borrows teaching concepts from the previous tutor (Mackey & Evans, 2011). The newcomer will then eventually become the tutor, and the circle continues. One can argue that situated learning fully relies on the skills and teaching abilities of the professional educator.

Hodges (1998) provides an interesting analysis of teaching and the role of the educator in situated learning. The critic uses personal examples to explain her premises. She states that in her experience as a student using the situated approach, she did not feel qualified enough to teach others, and she did not fully understand or pinpoint the exact moment she was expected to become eligible to teach apprentices. She further argues that she felt marginalized since the community she was involved with did not fully embrace her participation. The argument brings in the concept of identity crisis among both learners and tutors using the situated approach.

This is particularly the case if the students progress to teach other students, and there is no central way of selecting tutors. Dalli (2012) furthers the discussion by exploring the impact of the “social” nature of the situated approach to teachers. Dalli (2012) cites examples from New Zealand, stating that parents are a key influence in children’s education. Due to this, professional educators have to accommodate not only the children but their parents as well, as some educational services are fully run by the parents (Dalli, 2012). On top of this, the peer educator has a leading role in ensuring that the learning environment is as interesting to all participating students as possible. This can be enhanced by a seamless and well-structured situated learning framework.

As stated, the educator plays a crucial role in the networked learning approach. In these learning communities, the tutor has two roles. The immediate role is to oversee the programmatic elements of the network. The educator ensures that the network supports the educational needs of all involved. Additionally, the educator provides guidelines and frameworks that make it possible for students to learn effectively. One can also argue that updating learning resources is part of the educator’s work (Levy, 2006). However, compared to situated learning, the educator has minimal influence over the direct learning process. This is especially true in technology-based networked learning communities. It is important to point out that the premise also applies only in the physical sense.

Learner support is one of the most significant and often demanded aspects of technology-based networked learning. An example can be cited to explain the ideology further. Currently, there are various universities that offer digital courses through e-campuses. Such campuses bring together different students from across the world on the same platform and offer them quality education. However, in order to ensure that learning takes place, such communities need guidelines that monitor learner support. The educator has to be available at specified times to answer any queries the students might have and to also test the progression of the students.

Also, learning communities in the networked approach are very broad and complex. Unlike in the situated learning approach, these communities are not entirely careered or course-specific. This is due to the broad nature of a network. Indeed, networks can start small, with one or two schools embracing the idea. But there is no limitation to the number of schools that can join a network and learn from each other. Additionally, the fact that the approach also encourages network-to-network learning makes the approach is very complex and broad. Despite its broadness, there are some successful cases of networked learning methodologies.

Thorpe and Kubiak (2005) explain that such communities of learning are often described as highly creative due to their unlimited exposure to a different culture and learning methodologies. Interestingly, Thorpe and Kubiak (2005) argue that networked learning communities best serve research purposes while situated learning communities are best suited for crafted and highly systematic careers/courses.


In conclusion, both situated and networked learning approaches have various benefits. The idea to combine them is based, however, on their limitations. For example, networked learning does not give the professional educator a central role in the learning process. However, situated learning communities have a teacher as their key component. A combined learning community (uses both networked and situated approach) will ensure the learning process is guided by an educator while still give the student freedom to learn on their own. The introduction of technology into the situated approach will also ensure creativity and sustainability.

One can argue that situated learning encourages specialization, unlike networked training. However, networked learning reaches more people and takes less time. Combining the two will result in a time-efficient and specific approach to learning.


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