Situated learning theory in health professions education research: a scoping review

Bridget C. O’Brien*, Alexis Battista

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


At a time when cognitive and behavioral theories dominated the landscape of learning theories, Lave and Wenger’s situated learning theory (SLT) opened new territory by illuminating social and cultural learning processes. Many researchers and educators in the health professions embraced this theory, but few have considered how SLT has been used and what has been learned or improved through its use in health professions education (HPE). In this scoping review, the authors examine these questions and consider opportunities for future work with SLT in HPE. The authors followed Levac’s modified scoping review framework. They conducted a search of CINAHL, ERIC, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science for articles referencing SLT or related concepts in HPE between 2006 and 2016. Two reviewers screened all titles and abstracts, then screened full text for inclusion based on substantive treatment of SLT. Two authors extracted, analyzed and synthesized data from the final set of 193 articles. The authors identified two patterns of theory use. One sought an understanding of social learning processes in a specific context. The other aimed to design and/or evaluate interventions associated with communities of practice. These patterns are similar to other literatures (e.g., general education, healthcare, and organizational development) and, according to Lave and Wenger, may reflect confusion about the purpose, stance, and terminology of SLT. The authors discuss their findings in relation to primary source literature and consider opportunities for HPE researchers to employ and contribute to SLT going forward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-509
Number of pages27
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Communities of practice
  • Health professions education
  • Identity
  • Legitimate peripheral participation
  • Scoping review
  • Situated learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Situated learning theory in health professions education research: a scoping review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this