Situated Cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid)

Summary: Situated cognition is the theory that people’s knowledge is embedded in the activity, context, and culture in which it was learned. It is also referred to as “situated learning.”

Originators & proponents: John Seely Brown, Allan Collins, Paul Duguid

Keywords: activity, authentic domain activity, authentic learning, cognitive apprenticeship, content-specific learning, context, culture, everyday learning, knowledge, legitimate peripheral participation, socio-cultural learning, social construction of knowledge, social interaction, teaching methods

Situated cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid)

Situated cognition is a theory which emphasizes that people’s knowledge is constructed within and linked to the activity, context, and culture in which it was learned[1][2].

Learning is social and not isolated, as people learn while interacting with each other through shared activities and through language, as they discuss, share knowledge, and problem-solve during these tasks.

For example, while language learners can study a dictionary to increase their vocabulary, this often solitary work only teaches basic parts of learning a language; when language learners talk with someone who is a native speaker of the language, they will learn important aspects of how these words are used in the native speaker’s home culture and how the words are used in everyday social interactions.

Cognitive apprenticeship is an important aspect of situated cognition[3]. During this social interaction between a novice learner and an expert, important skills, interactions, and experiences are shared. The novice learns from the expert as an apprentice, and the expert often passes down methods and traditions which the apprentice can learn only from the expert and which are authentic learning. This is a form of socio-cultural learning. The expert is a practitioner of the skill and tradition, meaning that they use and practice them regularly in the everyday life. The expert scaffolds the novice’s learning.

This theory has helped researchers understand more widely about how people learn because it has focused on what people learn in their everyday lives, which are authentic contexts for a variety of skills. In addition, it helps educators understand how to capitalize on knowledge and skills that their students may already possess in order to help them learn new content and skills.


  1. Aydede, M., & Robbins, P. (Eds.). (2009). The Cambridge handbook of situated cognition. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational researcher, 18(1), 32-42.
  3. Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1988). Cognitive apprenticeship.Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children, 8(1), 2-10.

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