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The Situated Cognition in Online Education Report (Assessment)


Numerous theories try to explain how to integrate pedagogical support in online education to enhance understanding. One of such theories is the situated cognition theory. The theory holds that knowledge and actions are inseparable (Bredo, 2000).

It claims that people acquire knowledge by participating in certain activities or by interacting with numerous real life encounters. In a quest to enhance understanding of online education, learners should include interactive programs like simulations. Such programs would give learners a chance to interact virtually with real life situations, and thus acquire knowledge.

Besides, instructors ought to consider pedagogical supports like cognitive support to make sure that learners understand what they learn. Rewards might go a long way to help learners to develop interest in a study. Nevertheless, in most cases, tangible rewards do more harm than good to learners. The rewards kill the relationship amongst learners and create unhealthy competition.

However, not all rewards are bad. If well presented, some tangible rewards may help learners to develop the interest of performing well in their studies. This paper addresses the issue of situated cognition in online education and effects of tangible rewards to learners.

Situated cognition

Situated cognition is a theory, which holds that it is hard to separate knowing from doing. According to the theory, knowledge emanates from activities related to physical, cultural, and social contexts. Under this supposition, situativity theorists put forward a form of knowledge and learning that calls for thinking on the fly instead of storage and recovery of theoretical knowledge (Bredo, 2000).

Quintessentially, it is hard to separate cognition from context. Rather, knowing exists in a place that is inseparable from people, activity, context, language, and culture. Hence, based on situated cognition, learning is perceived in terms of the ability by an individual to prevail in different circumstances rather than the knowledge that the person possesses.

Situated cognition is a radical swing from the ancient pedagogical approaches where teachers gave instructions in a confined environment and expected the learners to accumulate skills and knowledge within the confined environment, which they could apply elsewhere. A good example of how situated cognition works is how students acquire knowledge about fractions in their schools (Bredo, 2000).

Students learn by using very abstract examples like pie charts. Hence, in spite of students understanding how fractions work, they might not be in a position to apply their knowledge in real life situations. If such students are taught on how fractions work through practical examples like baking, they could be in a good position to use the knowledge in real life situations.

It might be hard for individuals that learn in an enclosed environment to cope with such tasks. Besides, life might at times require one to think critically and it might be hard for people who have never been exposed to practical learning to achieve this end (Bredo, 2000). Therefore, according to situated cognition, an individual can only cope with complex situations if he or she has adequate knowledge and skills in dealing with such contexts.

Integration of situated cognition into online learning

According to situated cognition, the adaptation of environment and person entails mutual alteration and not inert matching (Kirshner & Whitson, 1997). The theory holds that the actions of an individual and environment are constituents of a mutually constructed whole. Such an interactive relation, transaction, or dialect opinion focuses on procedures in interactivity (Kirshner & Whitson, 1997).

Situated cognition maintains that it is hard to separate knowledge from relations. In simple terms, knowledge is a practiced relation of things and not just a psychological state. Therefore, without these relations, knowledge has no value. One might incorporate the idea of situated cognition into online learning.

In a bid to ensure that online learners acquire the necessary knowledge, online studies ought to be interactive. For instance, studies may include simulations. Inclusion of simulation would promote interaction allowing the learners to have an experience of the real life situation, though in a simulated way. Such an initiative would help learners to understand the context and develop creativity (Kirshner & Whitson, 1997).

Pedagogical support

In a bid to make sure that students understand and can apply what they learn from online learning, instructors should consider numerous pedagogical supports. The supports include social-constructivist, cognitive support, behavioural support, and emotional support. In situated cognition, instructors ought to consider the cognitive support as one of the most crucial pedagogical supports (Dabbagh, 2005).

Situated cognition holds that it is hard to separate cognition from the context as aforementioned. Hence, to ensure that students undertaking online studies acquire the necessary knowledge, one ought to focus on helping them to develop cognitive abilities.

Unlike in the field studies where students get an opportunity to interact with the world and gain firsthand experience, online learning does not give students an opportunity to interact with the actual world. Instead, in most cases, they encounter virtual circumstances, which might not help them acquire adequate knowledge (Young, 2003).

Therefore, to make sure that students acquire the requisite skills and knowledge in online learning, it is imperative to consider cognitive support. For instance, the instructors might achieve this by taking the learners through simulations and giving them an opportunity to engage their minds in imaginations (Young, 2003).

Through imaginations, learners would be in a position to figure out how certain things work and thus able in a position to understand real life circumstances even without having to come into direct contact with them.

Rewards in learning environment

Negative effects of rewards

Some researchers posit that rewarding learners with tangible rewards like gold stars or similar rewards do more harm than good to the learners. I do agree with this sentiment. The objective of rewarding learners is to encourage them to continue doing well in their studies. Nevertheless, a study conducted by Kohn (2001) proved otherwise.

Kohn (2001) learnt that rewards might motivate or demotivate learners. There are two types of motivations, viz. intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. In most cases, tangible rewards promote extrinsic motivation. A person does something good with an aim of getting rewards in return (Cheng & Yeh, 2009).

Conversely, intrinsic motivation comes from within a learner. This form of motivation is critical in moulding the long-term behaviour of learners. Tangible rewards do not help learners to understand why they need to behave in a particular manner. Whenever a learner realizes that he or she will not get a reward after he or she performs well, he or she tends to relax and perform poorly.

In other words, tangible rewards do not facilitate in promoting productive behaviour within learners. Once the rewards are withdrawn, a learner might exert minimal effort or even cease from performing well. The more the learners receive rewards, the more they require them for motivation. For instance, if a teacher rewards a child for not disturbing others in a classroom, the child gets motivated and changes his or her behaviour.

Nevertheless, if the teacher withdraws the reward, the child’s behaviour degenerates and he or she moves back to the previous status. Tangible rewards motivate learners. Nevertheless, learners do not understand the importance of encouraging them to continue doing well (Kelsey, 2011).

Hence, rewards do not encourage learners to become critical thinkers. Instead, they perceive it as their right to receive rewards whenever they perform, and when teachers fail to reward them, they stop working hard as a way of showing their rebellion.

In most cases, tangible rewards kill relationships in the learning environment. If a teacher keeps on rewarding a child for performing well in mathematics, he or she may promote competition in the class. In the process, students develop the mentality that their colleagues stand in their way to achieving rewards. Hence, students become rivals thus making it hard for them to cooperate and assist one another (Kohn, 2001).

Not all rewards are bad

Not all rewards are bad. Rewards that trigger intrinsic motivation are good and they encourage learners to continue with good performance. Intrinsic rewards challenge students to dig deeper and explore new areas of study in their subject. Such rewards help learners to understand the importance of performing well in studies.

Some tangible rewards might help to trigger intrinsic motivation within a learner (Cheng & Yeh, 2009). For instance, if a teacher rewards a performing student with textbooks and other educational materials, the rewards might help the student to understand the importance of performing well, and thus encourage him or her to study hard.

At times, students encounter challenging activities. The activities might demoralize them by making the students lose interest in pursuing the activities. In such a case, rewards might go a long way to encourage students to move on with the activities.

Even though at times the reward might instil pressure in students, which makes it hard for them to pursue the activity in fear that they might not get more rewards if they fail to get the desired outcomes. Nonetheless, this aspect does not imply that all rewards have negative impacts. Offering more evaluative rewards that are not based on the performance may encourage learners to be creative.

Hufton, Elliott, and Illushin (2003) posit that instructors ought to reward their students by evaluating their performance to instil self-esteem, regulate their behaviours, and trigger interest. Consequently, rewards that are used sparingly as an acknowledgment that a learner has achieved some objective assist in triggering interest within learners, thus making them to work harder.


Situated cognition theory maintains that knowledge and actions are inseparable. Hence, for learners to acquire the necessary knowledge, they should engage in practical activities. For instance, in online learning, students should go through numerous simulations to help them to get the idea of what they are learning.

Besides, instructors ought to offer cognitive support as one of the pedagogical supports. Some instructors reward their students as a way of motivating them. Nevertheless, at times, the rewards end up doing more harm than good to students. A majority of these rewards act as extrinsic motivators and do not address the importance of working hard.

Hence, students believe that they have the right to receive rewards whenever they perform well. When such rewards are withdrawn, students perform poorly. Despite this aspect, not all rewards are bad and some might help to trigger interest within students, thus making them to perform even better.


Bredo, E. (2000). Reconstructing educational psychology: Situated cognition and Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 29(1), 23-35.

Cheng, Y., & Yeh, H. (2009). From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective. British Journal of Education Technology, 40(4), 597-605.

Dabbagh, N. (2005). Pedagogical models for E-Learning: A theory-based design framework. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 1(1), 25-44.

Hufton, R., Elliott, G., & Illushin, L. (2003). Teachers’ beliefs about student motivation: Similarities and differences across cultures. Comparative Education, 39(3), 367-389.

Kelsey, J. (2011). The negative impact of rewards and ineffective praise on student motivation. ESSAI, 8(4), 87-90.

Kirshner, D., & Whitson, J. (1997). Situated cognition: Social, semiotic, and psychological perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Kohn, A. (2001). Five reasons to stop saying “good job!’. Young Children. Web.

Young, M. (2003). Instructional Design for Situated Learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 41(1), 43-58.

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U., Marcus. "The Situated Cognition in Online Education." IvyPanda (blog), August 20, 2019.


U., Marcus. 2019. "The Situated Cognition in Online Education." IvyPanda (blog), August 20, 2019.


U., M. (2019) 'The Situated Cognition in Online Education'. IvyPanda, 20 August.

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