I’m a Situated Learningologist: and why you should be too

I direct a masters degree that is delivered primarily in an online format. It’s hard for me to say the word “online” aloud when explaining the degree. The word online carries so much baggage. It’s almost like your saying you have a JC masters degree. To say “online” is to confess to some sub-academic realm.

I’ve got two students who have done grad degrees in ministry from other very reputable academic institutions in traditional format. They certainly don’t feel that they are in a sub-standard degree. In fact, one told me that she has learned so much more in this degree than in her previous experience. This is because, I think, that the genius of our degree lies in our overall philosophy of learning and online is one element that allows us to embody this philosophy. So, I’m looking for a new way to describe our degree. Here’s one I like. We offer a situated learning degree.

There’s a whole literature about situated learning (thanks to my buddy, Stephen Johnson for the heads up here). They distinguish situated learning from “learning as internalization,”or conventional learning process “by which a learner internalizes knowledge, whether ‘discovered,’ ‘transmitted’ from others, or ‘experienced in interaction’ with others. This focus on internalization does not just leave the nature of the learner, of the world, and of their relations unexplored…It establishes a sharp dichotomy between inside and outside, suggests that knowledge is largely cerebral, and takes the individual as the nonproblematic unit of analysis.” (Lave and Wegner, Situated Learning, 47)

Been there, done that.

In contrast, situated learning proceeds from the conviction that “learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community” (LW, 29). So, situated learning takes more fully into account the participatory nature of all learning in “communities of practice.” “Conceiving of learning in terms of participation focuses attention on ways in which it is an evolving, continuously renewed set of relations.”

Situated learning, therefore, takes more fully into account the nature of the learner, the world, and of their relations. As LW state it, situated learning “emphasizes the relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing. It emphasizes the inherently socially negotiated character of meaning and the interested, concerned character of the thought and action of persons-in-activity. This view also claims that learning, thinking, and knowing are relations among people in activity, in, with, and arising from the socially and culturally structured world” (LW, 50-51).

Among other things, this means that persons learn in communities connected to a world of actions and motivations. We learn while we act with others.

I think we have a situated learning degree. By keeping our students in their world, in their network of relations, and by situating their learning in a cohort or community of practice, we greatly enrich the kind of learning possible.

We’re still learning how to deliver this to its full potential. I think we need to strengthen the apprentice aspects of it; better deliver coaching to students in their various situations. But this is definitely the track we are pursuing.

I’m hoping to learn more from the situated learning folks. I’m wondering what this sounds like to you.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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9 Responses to I’m a Situated Learningologist: and why you should be too

  1. Cheryl R says:

    Agreed. I would definitely consider the MREML Program a situated learning degree, and I would also add that it has been an incredibly life-giving program for me. I did not expect to be part of a program in which I would get to experience growth in so many areas. Truly, the MREML narrates a story for its students that energizes in practical ways at home. The intensive weeks were formational to the core. Loved the projects, readings, and online discussion that followed. The Spiritual Direction was top notch. AND, I loved my cohort. I finish this degree with mixed emotions, happy to be completing, but sad to say goodbye to such a rich and formational learning experience.

  2. Kevin H. says:

    In August of 2010 I entered the classroom after a twenty-five year absence as I began the MREML Program at Rochester. I was a bit apprehensive because I knew the classroom had changed drastically since I completed my undergraduate work. I was thrilled to see that the nature of this program, however, allowed for my context to become my classroom. The demands of graduate work could have pulled me away from my ministry. The genius of the MREML is that the course work consistently drove me back into relationship and community with my local congregation. In fact, my learning was enriched by that dynamic. The relational/situational aspect was enhanced even more as my cohort engaged in regular conversations. The combination of local context involvement and cohort relationship has allowed for a rich experience of learning that has bridged the gap between academy and praxis.

  3. Anonymous... says:

    I’ve always been frustrated with learning m whole life. I can’t remember a day in my childhood when I didn’t leave school asking the same question: “What am I supposed to do with that?” I even struggled with this same frustration in undergraduate studies. My most valuable days in Bible as an undergrad were the days when we had conflict in the class room, because most of the time “note taking” or listening to lectures didn’t require me to let Jesus live in my place. In this program I can’t get away with taking notes and then moving on with my life. Every class and most of their assignments were founded and even graded based on the fact that I lived out the concepts in some way. Now I don’t have to ask “what am I supposed to do with that?” Now I ask “how can I not do something with that?”

  4. Michael Hanegan says:

    I have always wanted to pursue graduate work but was never really sure that it would (or could) connect to the life of the church in more than a tangential way. This degree has proven the exact opposite. Not only is this program robust with top-notch scholars driving us to think more deeply but it is centered in a learning community that helps all the learning to give birth to new forms of life in our ministry contexts. The implications for my ministry and congregation have been astounding. This degree has given me a new vision for what it means to lead in the new missional era in which the church finds itself. It has helped me to maintain the tension and interdependence of my passions, the life and witness of the local church and contemporary scholarship in biblical studies, theology, and ministry.

    If you want to be transformed, if you want to learn a new way to integrate faith and learning, if you want real life tools to change the world by participating more fully in God’s mission you have found a person of peace in Mark and a learning community in this degree. I couldn’t more highly recommend this program.

  5. Ali Kaiser says:

    i have often joked with my youth group that once I receive the MRE diploma, I will have to xerox it and hand out copies to each of them! The “situated learning” set up of this degree has allowed me to invite many significant people of my context along for the ride! We’ve learned and changed together through the last two years of applying and reflecting on deep, relevant material.

  6. Bert B. says:

    One significant value of “situated learning” is the possibility of building a cohort of students from very diverse backgrounds and ministry contexts. Each member of our MREML cohort is involved in full time ministry while participating in the cohort, which would not be possible in a traditional setting. The situated cohort learning is further enriched by the daily interaction and discussion which adds depth and further meaning to the topic. These shared experiences have been invaluable as examples of what is possible in a variety of contexts. I can’t image a richer and more complete setting for learning to take place.

  7. qb says:

    From Neil Postman to Socrates, folks have been imagining and reimagining dialectical and situated approaches to education that promise a more penetrating, praxis-oriented, community-centered – dare we say “authentic?” – outcome, recognizing that all non-apprenticed learning is inherently artificial. The paradigmatic father-and-son-on-the-ranch apprenticeship that drives learning both deeply inside to character formation and outwardly to help the neighbor in the midst of real-life contingencies just seems impossible to pull off when it’s mediated by technologies that simply cannot deliver the intimacy it tries to promise. If you can approximate it, you will have achieved something well-nigh impossible. It will take a full measure of grace and inspiration!

    • Mark Love says:

      Qb, thanks for the comments. What I like about the situated learning folks, is that they place learning in a context larger than just master-apprentice (though they began by looking at apprentice learning). Learning, all learning, for them is socio-cultural. It takes place within this robust community of practice. I doubted that we could deliver this using online as much as we are. But to this point it sure beats anything I’ve ever been involved with by a long shot. We’ll see.

  8. Brad Schrum says:

    I am part of a cohort in the program, and it gas been nothing short of life changing. I enter the program midyear. I graduated a semester early from undergrad and was able to jump right into the master’s program, but I was also able to begin my ministry as well. The combination of first year ministry and master’s work has made for an incredible learning experience. There has been a two way flow of learning between my work and academics. Neither would be as valuable without the other. The academics have been rigorous, but the learning community has been the greatest part of this program. Those taking classes with me have helped me to learn and grow, and the unique aspect of this program is that my congregation has been part of the learning community. We are all learning and growing together.

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