Situativity theory: a perspective on how participants and the environment can interact: AMEE Guide no. 52

Med Teach. 2011;33(3):188-99. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2011.550965.


Situativity theory refers to theoretical frameworks which argue that knowledge, thinking, and learning are situated (or located) in experience. The importance of context to these theories is paramount, including the unique contribution of the environment to knowledge, thinking, and learning; indeed, they argue that knowledge, thinking, and learning cannot be separated from (they are dependent upon) context. Situativity theory includes situated cognition, situated learning, ecological psychology, and distributed cognition. In this Guide, we first outline key tenets of situativity theory and then compare situativity theory to information processing theory; we suspect that the reader may be quite familiar with the latter, which has prevailed in medical education research. Contrasting situativity theory with information processing theory also serves to highlight some unique potential contributions of situativity theory to work in medical education. Further, we discuss each of these situativity theories and then relate the theories to the clinical context. Examples and illustrations for each of the theories are used throughout. We will conclude with some potential considerations for future exploration. Some implications of situativity theory include: a new way of approaching knowledge and how experience and the environment impact knowledge, thinking, and learning; recognizing that the situativity framework can be a useful tool to "diagnose" the teaching or clinical event; the notion that increasing individual responsibility and participation in a community (i.e., increasing "belonging") is essential to learning; understanding that the teaching and clinical environment can be complex (i.e., non-linear and multi-level); recognizing that explicit attention to how participants in a group interact with each other (not only with the teacher) and how the associated learning artifacts, such as computers, can meaningfully impact learning.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Education, Medical*
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Psychological Theory
  • Teaching*
  • Thinking