Situated Learning Theory vs. Social Learning Theory

Situated learning theory concludes that for learning to occur, it must take place within authentic environments; learning is impacted and directly affected by the context in which it takes place.

Why Use It

  • Real-world learning is meaningful: collaborative, exploratory, and mirrors life problems
  • Learning is more likely to transfer when done in an authentic context

Classrooms, which are not often seen as authentic contexts for learning, can move toward situated learning through the incorporation of simulations and a focus on real-world problems/problem-solving.

Social learning theory stresses the importance of learning through observation in social contexts. Bandura theorized that people learn by observing others’ behavior and the consequences that result from those behaviors. Additionally, learning takes place from the positive and negative consequences of our direct experiences. New patterns of behavior result from these observations and experiences.

Why Use It

  • The social environments of classrooms provide many opportunities to learn from others
  • Thoughtful modeling can promote positive social relationships

Promote a classroom culture that nurtures positive peer and student-teacher relationships. Intentional modeling and observation of a caring community plants the seed for positive social interaction in the future.


  • Learning happens in the real-world
  • Learning is social and happens through human interaction
  • Importance of learning from others through modeling and mentorships


  • The concept of learning transfer differs between the two theories.
  • Situated learning: If learning does not take place in its authentic context, transfer is not expected.
  • Social learning: Learning through observing the mistakes and successes of others can be applied to other situations and at other times.

Anderson, J., Reder, L., & Simon, H. (1996). Situated learning and education. Educational Researcher, 25(4), 5-11.,%20Reder_Pt1.pdf

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New York: Stanford University General Learning Press.

Heyes, C. (2016). Who knows? Metacognitive social learning strategies. Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 20(3), 204-213. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.12.007

Created by: Abbey Engebretson