Contextual Learning

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Situated learning, or contextual learning, is the idea that all learning is inextricably tied to the context in which it happens – the activities, the physical and social context, and the culture in which learning occurs.  Other related names for this principle include situated cognition, encoding specificity, and simulation.

Situated learning contrasts with abstract and decontextualized learning.  Sometimes students may memorize formulas, write papers, or do well on standard tests of learning, but they do so without an understanding of the underlying concepts or purpose of the learning, and without transferring their learning to later courses, let alone to the real world.

There are several teaching strategies based on the idea of situated learning that have helped students learn more deeply and transfer their learning to later courses and the real world, including:

  • Problem-based Learning
  • Simulations
  • Modeling
  • Service Learning
  • Anchored Instruction
  • Communities of Practice
  • Games
  • Project-based Learning
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship
  • Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences
  • Writing Across the Curriculum

Some authors of research and theory related to situated learning include:

  • Jean Lave
  • Etienne Wenger
  • Lev Vygotsky
  • John Dewey
  • J. G. Greeno

More resources:

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