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Situated Learning: Focus on Process Work in Teaching

Subject: Archaeology. Course: Material Culture. Study level: MA. Class size: 15-20.

Motivation for the activity

Relevant and including teaching is based on engaging methodologies and pertinent themes – not long-lasting lectures. The content is best learnt through hands-on activities that reflects real life experiences and relevant case studies. Essential for the idea of situated learning is the claim that learning is a social phenomenon and training by abstraction is of little use. Based on these claims it is vital to work in groups and on real-life self-experienced dilemmas and trouble shooting.  

Central learning outcomes of the activity

According to ideas of situated learning, learning is seen as participation in the social world. It is an integral and inseparable aspect of social practice. Through strategies of situated learning the student will discover, shape, and make explicit their own knowledge within a community of practice. The student will engage in a social process and learn how knowledge is co-constructed; they will discover how learning is situated in a specific context and embedded within a particular social and physical environment.

Description of the activity

  • In groups of between 3-5 the students are asked to agree on a research question (in situated learning called a dilemma or a problem) relating to the topic of the day – this could e.g. regard landscape analysis as a methodology in material culture studies.
  • They are asked to address a problem in the past or in their present-day life and through landscape analysis suggest solutions to the problem (or answers to the research question).
  • They should work on computers assessing maps etc.
  • They are asked to present the problem to the rest of the class and suggest a solution. This can be done visually or orally.   
  • Furthermore, they are asked to record the negotiations they had in the group and discuss this in class. Were their different solutions? Did they reach an agreement? How?

Outcome of the activity

The activity will teach the student to focus on the process rather than the product. It will clarify, that definitions and applications of concepts and methodologies are not stable, but liable to negotiations providing the student both criticism and acceptance. The case studies can be handed in as an assessment of the learning outcome and participation.


This activity can require a high level of engagement from the teacher to moderate the discussions. It might be useful from the beginning to discuss the learning goal with the student – to make clear that the process is more important than the product.  

Links and Extra Material

Short video that runs you through the general concepts of situated learning: