During the last several centuries, substantial improvements have been observed in the field of education. Human development is an integral part of life, and it is a serious choice for every person on how to study or choose data sources. Using the discussions developed by Rousseau, Montessori, and Isaacs, Barron (2009) concludes that “development and learning occur naturally and that children learn and develop best when their activities are freely chosen” (p. 344).
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Despite the type of education, there are usually two learning approaches to be considered, known as situated learning and networked learning. Each of them has a great impact on learning communities and the selection and recognition of the role of an educator. It is extremely important to understand these approaches and clarify what qualities matter in a learning process. Relationships between people and information, as well as social interactions and collaboration, are the major elements of situated and networked learning approaches. This paper aims to analyze the respective benefits and limitations of situated and networked learning approaches and their role in the identification of learning communities and their members’ roles.
The Essence of Situated Learning
Nowadays, communities are interested in promoting their e-learning opportunities with all their advantages and shortages. At the same time, millions of people prefer a naturalistic, interpretive study environment that children can get, visiting their kindergartens and schools (Lash, 2008). However, in their intention to provide students with the best options and the most important knowledge, teachers (or educators) have to choose a learning approach and follow their goals. Gee (2008) says that it is crucial for classrooms to “offer learners not just the same ‘content’ but also equal affordances for action, participation, and learning” (p. 104).
Such a need promotes the creation of a networked learning approach. Still, the choice of resources and assessment tools must not be defined as the only factors of successful learning. Therefore, a situated learning approach is also promoted, and Mackey and Evans (2011) underline socio-cultural epistemologies that have to be “situated within the contexts” of learning development (p. 2). One should analyze the peculiarities of both methods to implement them successfully in education.
To understand the benefits and limitations of the chosen approaches, it is necessary to give clear definitions to each of them. For example, Altomonte, Logan, Feisst, Rutherford, and Wilson (2016) use the works of different researchers and the experiences of various academic facilities to explain that situated learning is and is not. This learning approach is not just “the contextualization of a pedagogy based on learning by doing” (Cobb & Bowers, as cited in Altomonte et al., 2016, p. 435).
It is correct to define a situated learning approach as “a model of learning in a community of practice that involves users being fully participating in generating meaning” (Altomonte et al., 2016, p. 435). A situated viewpoint supports the idea of learning as a relationship between a student’s body and mind in the chosen environment (Gee, 2008). In other words, a situated learning approach is a process when a student benefits from his or her social interaction and participation to learn information and stay motivated.
Benefits of Situated Learning
As well as any form of instruction, situated learning is a method that attracts users by a variety of benefits. First of all, it promotes the meaning of all the activities in which students are involved. Lave and Wenger developed this concept in 1991 to explain the idea of a learning process through thinking (Lave, 2019). Therefore, one of its expected benefits is the possibility for students and educators to interpret information that is critical for learning.
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Another significant characteristic of this approach is its obviousness, meaning that a process takes place in a specific space and time. In other words, a person is able to learn the chosen setting, make a well-grounded decision, determine the context, and remove all abstract concerns. Situated learning happens in a real (natural) setting, and all the participants rely on their skills and demands to succeed in a process.
Talking about the importance of situated learning in a classroom, one should remember that any process is based on collaboration. According to Hodges (1998), interaction and curriculums are “more complex than an instructional dependence on textbooks” (p. 280). Therefore, situated learning may contribute to classroom interactions by such activities as modeling, observations, and role-playing. Coordination of relationships is a benefit for those who choose this form of learning. As a result, students learn how to use new information and qualities in real settings, and teachers gain control to make sure the best results can be achieved.
Following the recommendation by Siemens (2004) that any learning theory must “actuate known knowledge at the point of application,” situated learning is beneficial because of the necessity to think about the future (p. 9). Improved human experiences, cooperation, a free exchange of thoughts during a learning process, and an understanding of the basics of education are the respective benefits of the chosen approach.
Limitations of Situated Learning
Social behavior is a core aspect of situated learning that defines the number and content of activities in the classroom. On the one hand, it enhances students’ understanding of what should be done and what they can do. On the other hand, much work is required from students and educators in their intention to achieve positive results. Therefore, many challenges in the work of all the participants may be defined as possible limitations of this learning approach. The example of Te Kōhanga Reo, a development initiative in the Māori education system, reveals the importance of cultural understanding and respect (Tangaere, 2006).
Cooperation was chosen as a part of situated learning where multiple resources and practices help to reflect Māori culture and beliefs. It means that any children’s learning program should be well-developed and supported, and a team of educators has to be work hard. Sometimes, academic facilities do not have enough access to all the necessary materials. In some situations, people lack some time or skills to complete their job. Therefore, misunderstandings and mistakes occur due to poorly prepared staff and settings.
Another shortage of situated learning is connected with the amount of work that has to be done during a learning process. A situated approach is based on interpretations and representations that people are free to develop (Gee, 2008). Students, as well as their teachers, have to deal with real-life applications, consider the chosen theoretical background, try new things, come back, and discuss what is effective or does not work.
It is hard to complete all these tasks within the frames of one or two classes, and much information has to be memorized to use through the unit (that usually includes several lessons). Life-long interactions include different tasks like listening to others, emotion regulation, problem-solving, decision-making, and negotiating (Wright, Diener, & Kemp, 2013). Situated learning opens a variety of opportunities for people with different cultural and social backgrounds, and participants have to be ready to cooperate, investigate, and analyze all the time.
The Essence of Networked Learning
There are also situations when students are in need of additional help and explanations. It means that educators have not only to evaluate the possibilities of children and their gained skills but to address new technologies and devices. According to Hughes (2007, 2010), supportive networks are highly appreciated to identify congruence and within a learning group. Compared to situated learning, a networked learning approach has an impressive list of characteristics, including “learning community, connections, reflexivity, criticality, collaboration, relational dialogue” (Hodson & McConnell, 2018, p. 459).
It is not an easy task for modern people to build a socially and emotionally safe learning environment for children with their needs and demands for freedom and independence (Wright et al., 2013). Therefore, new ways of student-student or teacher-student cooperation are introduced in different fields of education. The Internet has already made it possible for people from various parts of the world to communicate and exchange information. Now, it is high time to demonstrate the priorities students have got with the World Wide Web and networked learning, in particular.
Such an impressive list of characteristics of networked learning should not confuse learners and make them believe that this approach is a combination of all significant elements of a learning process. Its successful implementation depends on how well an educator is able to identify the basics and apply them. Young children are encouraged to use available tools to demonstrate their own understanding of reality and represent their beliefs and expectations (Keat, Strickland, & Marinak, 2009).
Networked learning is a process when all these requirements are followed and clearly explained to students. Using the investigations by Cousin and Deepwell or Sorensen, Mackey and Evans (2011) introduce network learning as a result of “growing interest in approaches that employ communication technologies to foster collaborative processes, interaction” (p. 2). This approach encourages and challenges people at the same time due to a variety of new options and choices. Both educators and students have to step away from traditional methods of education and rely on the results of technological progress, even being poorly aware of its characteristics.
Benefits of Networked Learning
As well as there are many supporters and opportunities of the impact of the Internet on modern people, the opinions about networked learning are divided. One of the most evident pros of this form of learning is its accessibility. Networked learning makes teaching practices public and transformative to all people who are interested in the offered opportunity (Mackey & Evans, 2011). The only requirements that play a role include a person’s access to the World Wide Web and an account to pay for services. The elimination of cultural and geographical barriers becomes possible with this system of education.
The history of A’oga Fa’a Samoa education center proves that the academic staff tries to recognize community and family needs to make sure the offered knowledge and services are effective. According to A’oga Fa’a Samoa Teachers, Management, and COI Focus Group (2005), “responsiveness and flexibility are characteristics of innovative services” (p. 6). As soon as society and policies changed, new academic contexts were required. Networked learning follows the same direction and focuses on what people expect.
Another positive aspect of networked education is the improvement of collaborative activities and the possibility to share learning practices around the globe. Tamati (2005) says that any education ideology always includes two types of activities either to teach (for educators) or to learn (for students). Therefore, positive results of networking learning can be observed in both teachers and students. For example, instead of being passive recipients of professional information, educators are able to demonstrate their abilities and exchange their observations (Mackey & Evans, 2011).
Students, in their turn, succeed in creating their communities in regard to the influence they experience by the existing social networks (Iyer & Reese, 2013). Besides, the level of assessment, research practices, and communication is considerably improved and extended. Networked learning is not only an achievement that is based on technologies and progress but a chance to discover new sides of the same learning process.
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Limitations of Networked Learning
The application of networked learning aims at improving learner interactions, but these changes require much work and effort. One of the main challenges is the necessity to have specific devices to be available online all the necessary time.
The impact of online connection is highlighted by Mackey and Evans (2011) in networked learning. Still, these technical needs are determined by the social statuses of learners and educators because not all people are able to buy the necessary equipment. Therefore, sometimes, financial inequalities and the inability to establish programs influence the way of a learning or research process. Although these differences may not be as evident as they can be in classrooms, this factor is still considered to be a serious problem in a networked learning approach.
In some cases, the method of learning under analysis may challenge people and their desire to participate. For example, the investigation by Hodson and McConnell (2018) focuses on the technologies that increase transparency between students. Many students are not able to organize their time and utilize all their opportunities in a proper way due to their young age, the lack of experience, or the presence of other responsibilities and tasks.
Networked learning removes many boundaries and enhances flexibility, but the worth of order and control cannot be ignored in a learning process. Some students may motivate themselves and plan their learning activities, but there are also many people who choose or are obliged to use networked learning and need additional motivation and leadership. The absence of a regular mentor can be a challenge of networked learning in some cases.
Results of Learning Communities
Situated and networked learning approaches result in the creation of various learning communities with specific goals and opportunities being recognized. Iyer and Reese (2013) explain that any learning community of practice may be influenced by “social and learning networks,” meaning that students establish and determine their sites for collaboration (p. 32). In both cases, learning communities aim at promoting the quality of learning, understanding the needs of collaboration, and discussing the most appropriate methods of communication.
The first learning communities based on the situated approach were developed in the 1970s. People were interested not only in absorbing knowledge but transferring experiences from experts to novices by means of observations (Carter & Adkins, 2017). The main characteristics of such groups of people include the presence of common concern or passion and the desire to interact regularly to develop a sense and urgency of the chosen practice. With time, people expanded their needs and expectations from the learning communities they create. The networked learning approach contributed to the establishment of new online communities, also known as networked learning communities (NLC) (O’Toole, 2019).
Their goal is to support professional development through the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to continue connections between learners and their learning resources (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson, & Steeples, as cited in O’Toole, 2019). A distinctive feature of the latter communities is the possibility for all the participants to deal with barriers in time and space. Increased levels of interaction between people are observed, but researchers and critics admit that the content of a learning process has been shaped since the years of situated learning.
The Role of a Professional Educator
Situated learning is a method where educators have to define their roles and understand their tasks before they start cooperating with learners. Students choose programs with situated strategies because they want to be sure that as soon as they choose a program, they can address a teacher for help, and a good educator provides guidance at any stage (Gee, 2008). In networked learning, the role of an educator has been dramatically changed with time.
Instead of guiding students, a professional teacher is able to recognize their students’ strong and weak points and underline the strength to promote independence and enthusiasm. Modern teachers who choose networked learning over situated appreciate their freedoms and demonstrate their desire to share practices via a variety of available technologies.
The role of an educator is not to guide on how to behave or study but to make sure enough options are offered and clear explanations are given. It is wrong to think that the roles of educators in situated or networked learning communities differ because one of them is better than another. Many things depend on what people expect from their education and what resources they could use. Situated learning makes educators focus on rules and obligations when the relationship between knowledge and practice plays a key role. In networked learning communities, educators deal with connections and a variety of alternatives and resources.
In general, situated and networked learning approaches have a number of respective benefits and limitations. On the one hand, educators focus on technological progress and gain benefits from networked learning communities when multiple connections help to find interesting information from different parts of the world. On the other hand, situated learning cannot be ignored because it shows the basics of a learning process when an understanding of a matter plays a significant role.
A number of learning communities result from situated and networked approaches, and each community should have its leader (a professional educator) who is aware of how to help students, what goals to establish, and what sources to use. Despite the approach a person chooses for his or her community, a learning process is always defined as an opportunity to study this world and understand the worth of knowledge and improvements.
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