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Situated Learning and its relevance today

Source | | Yogi Sriram

I live in Parel, a densely populated area in Mumbai. Except for Mondays, the market is buzzing with activity.  Vendors squat on the pavements, selling fruit, vegetables and other products, try to outshout each other, hoping to attract customers.  As I walk down the street and see the hustle and bustle with a myriad of colours, commerce and cacophony, I observe something distinct.

I learned Arithmetic and Math at school with the Unitary System; if I had to divide 595 by 7, I would put 595 down on a piece of paper and put a line under that with the figure 7 and proceed to use the Unitary method to get the result of 85.  If I had to purchase 1.25 kgs of onions priced at Rs. 78/- per kg, I would have to do some simple Math in my head, again, using the Unitary method.  There would be some time lag, perhaps of 45 seconds before I arrived at the right answer.  In contrast, the street vendors, in spite of fractions being demanded of them or their weighing portions of vegetables such as pumpkin, did the arithmetic in a flash.  What gives them this ability?  The context in which we learn even simple arithmetic is extremely important.  It is possible that the vegetable vendor was thinking in symbols, maybe 1 kilo is a circle and a 250 gms as a quarter of that circle rather than getting bogged down by numbers.

Situated learning is learning that takes place in the context in which it has to be applied. It was first propagated by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger as a theory of learning amongst a community, who share a common calling, profession or skill. They called this a community of practice.  When we think about Situated Learning, we begin to understand the importance of practical learning which happens as one learns on a job, along with others.  Particularly in the Indian context, the emphasis on theory, rote learning and abstract knowledge given in the classroom is hard to relate with the real world and therefore difficult to retain.  Real learning happens when it is digested, reflected upon and can be applied to the context of the person.  I am a student of Economics having completed my graduation with Honours in the subject from Sriram College of Commerce, Delhi.  Thereafter, I pursued post graduate programmes in Business Management, Human Resource Management and Law.  My academic foundations were not even remotely connected with engineering.  From a very young age, I began to be interested in electronics and its practical application.  My fascination for electronics led me to study circuits and the practical understanding of how electricity works in the context of one of my favourite hobbies, which is operating and modifying scale model trains.  I am today able to read circuits, modify them and understand the practical importance of voltage, amperage and how decoders work.

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