The Situated Learning Theory and Anchored Instruction


A Comparison of the Situated Learning Theory and Anchored Instruction

Erin Roe
IM 504
July 2014


The Situated Learning Theory
The Situated Learning Theory requires that instruction take place in an authentic context because situated learning theorists argue that learning cannot take place if it is not in the context that it actually occurs. Additionally, situated learning theorists believe that the transfer of knowledge takes place when a person participates in conversations and interactions with others.

The primary goal in the Situated Learning Theory is for learners to be able to apply knowledge to "real world" tasks.

Anchored Instruction
Anchored Instruction is an approach that uses macrocontexts or complex problem spaces as anchors that students can examine for long periods of time and from different perspectives to find plausible solutions. Possible anchors of instruction may be an informational text or a video. The anchor provides background knowledge about the problem and creates a shared learning experience for the students.

The primary goal of anchored instruction is to solve the inert knowledge problem by enabling “students and teachers to understand not only the problems and opportunities that ‘experts’ encounter in different areas but also how experts use knowledge as a tool” (Love, 2005, p. 302). Other goals for students are the development of the “confidence, skill, and necessary knowledge to solve problems and become independent thinkers and learners” (Cena and Mitchell, 1998).

Example of Application(s)

Situated Learning Theory Application

This course utilizes the Situated Learning Theory in the instructional design project.

  • Requires that the students apply what they are learning in class, to an actual design project that will be used by an actual client. Therefore, the learning contexts is an authentic performance context.
  • Requires that the students be part of a team or a community that works together to complete the project. This collaboration allows for students with little or no instructional design experience to learn from students with more background in instructional design.
  • Professor has “coached” the students by scaffolding information and skills in class discussions that have guided the students to solve problems and create solutions for the design document.

Anchored Instruction Application

An example of an application of Anchored Instruction is the The Young Sherlock Project that was developed for a 5th grade class in order to meet both language arts and social studies objectives.

  • Utilized the primary anchor of the film The Young Sherlock Holmes and the secondary anchor of the film Oliver Twist.
  • Required students to use the two anchors to explore different aspects of a story, to analyze setting by evaluating the accuracy of the Sherlock film and to develop their own problems within the anchors and provide their own solutions (The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990).


  • Both emphasize a shared learning experience for the learners that allows for collaboration of both the instructors and the students that guides students toward an understanding of the material.
  • Both utilize more generative strategies because the learning objectives are not clearly defined to the students by the instructor and students must come up with their own problems and solutions.
  • Both the Situated Learning Theory and Anchored Instruction share the goal of students engaging in higher-order thinking skills because the students need to use knowledge and skills in actual contexts.


  • A major difference is that situated learning requires an authentic context; whereas, anchored instruction requires macrocontexts that are not necessarily authentic.


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Created by: Erin Roe