Situated Cognition Principles Increase Students’ Likelihood of Knowledge Transfer in an Online Information Literacy Course




evidence summary


A Review of:
Catalano, A. (2015). The effect of a situated learning environment in a distance education information literacy course. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(5), 653-659. http://dx.doi:org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.06.008

Objective – To assess the efficacy of the application of situated cognition principles in education students’ transfer of knowledge to practice in an online information literacy course. “Situation cognition” refers to a theory in which expert behaviour-modeling, authentic activity and apprenticeship, and learning environment are integral in learning.

Design – A randomized controlled trial.

Setting – A small private university in New York State.

Subjects – 85 education college students in 7 sections of a 1-credit online course titled Introduction to Library Research and Technology.

Methods – Each course section was randomly assigned via cluster sampling to “situated cognition” treatment (n = 48) or control conditions (n = 37). The treatment sections provided students with expert modeling, scaffolding, authentic activity, and problem-based assessments according to the principles of situated learning and teaching for transfer; while the control sections provided students with traditional instruction of lectures and handouts.

A pretest and posttest were given to students in order to assess improvement in knowledge of the five categories for evaluating resources: currency, relevance, authority, credibility, and audience. The pretest was a survey administered during the first week of the course, and the posttest questions were included in the final exam. The researcher also used a final assignment to evaluate students’ improvement on the far transfer task, (i.e., their ability to transfer a skill learned in one context for use and applicability in other contexts). The task was to create a resolution for one of three concerns raised to a School Board, to write a statement addressing the received concern, and to articulate a recommended solution. Two raters independently graded tasks on a scale using a rubric based on information literacy principles, including incorporating some corroborating sources, evaluating of source information, and determining a solution based on source credibility.

Main Results – The researcher compared the impact of the situated cognition teaching on retention using the posttest and on far transfer task of the 85 students in both treatment and control groups using multivariate analysis of variance (MANCOVA). The MANCOVA analysis found no significant difference between scores based on belonging to treatment or control groups. However, because far transfer occurred in 59 cases based on scoring of the tests, the researchers performed a logistic regression analysis and found the group variable (i.e., belonging to the situated cognition treatment group or control group) provided a significant prediction of transfer (p < .05), when controlling for engagement, self-regulation, and motivation. Potential confounding due to variation in motivation, self-regulation, and engagement were ruled out by using the Motivated Strategy for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) and by recording of participation in weekly assignments. Furthermore, presence in the treatment group increased the odds for the incidence of far transfer by a factor of 2.90.

Conclusion – When testing the use of principles of situated learning (e.g., problem-based learning and cognitive apprenticeship in library instruction), the study results indicated an increase in the likelihood of students being able to practise knowledge in various situations and apply what they have learned in real-life examples. While the majority of students in both treatment and control groups demonstrated the skills of far transfer, the study provides evidence to support situated cognition, an understudied set of principles, and the study also utilizes quantitative methods to further strengthen this support.


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Author Biography

Peace Ossom Williamson, The University of Texas at Arlington

Director for Research Data Services




How to Cite

Ossom Williamson, P. (2016). Situated Cognition Principles Increase Students’ Likelihood of Knowledge Transfer in an Online Information Literacy Course. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 11(4).



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