Situated learning is a theory of knowledge acquisition based in social interaction and constructivism approaches. This instructional strategy postulates that students are more inclined to learn by actively participating in the learning experience. Within this learning framework, students actively involve in resolving real world problems and form or “construct” their own knowledge from contextual learning experiences in a “community of practice” because learning requires social interaction and collaboration. Traditional learning occurs from abstract, out of real practice experiences. Nevertheless, situated learning takes place through the relationships between people and connecting prior knowledge with contextual learning. This set of strategies allows students to integrate the characteristics of each subject in a contextualized, situated, meaningful and motivating knowledge.

From this theoretical model, we developed a learning experience aimed to determine whether situated learning improve specific skills in students, specifically their ability to assess joint reference in autism spectrum disorders. Also, we attempted to assess students’ general satisfaction with this learning experience in two mandatory subjects (developmental disorders and observation in school) in the Early Childhood Education Degree offered in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zaragoza.

Ninety-one students were enrolled in the subject “Developmental disorders”. Forty-one voluntarily agreed to participate in a situated learning experience (experimental group). They attended four public special education schools in Zaragoza (Spain). Previously, students were informed about the aims of the project. The students had to use systematic observation to evaluate communicative intention in students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Before the situated learning experience, students’ level of knowledge regarding joint reference was analysed through a case study (baseline). The effect of situated learning between experimental (N = 41) and comparative (N = 50) groups, was analysed after the experience using also a case study. After visiting the especial education schools, the students who participated in the experience of situated learning responded a survey designed ad hoc to assess students’ general satisfaction.

The results showed that students´ level of satisfaction with the experience was high or very high. Students’ level of knowledge with regard to joint reference significantly improved after the learning experience compared to those who did not voluntary participated in it. Our findings are consistent with the results of previous studies that underline the need of a blended learning with situated learning experiences.