The Importance of Contextual Learning

Is there anything more frustrating than being taught something but having no clue how to actually execute a task in real life? Sometimes, it can be hard to put theoretical knowledge into practical use. Contextual learning can alleviate the challenges that typical lecture-driven teaching often faces. From encouraging problem-solving and independent learning, a contextualized learning strategy helps students to see the bigger picture and gain a deeper understanding of the tasks at hand.
contextual learning
Matleena Salminen
Matleena Salminen
Content writer

What is contextual learning?

Contextualized learning is a learning theory that is based on the notion that learning happens only when students are able to process new information in relation to their own frames of reference.

Contextualized teaching actively involves the learner in the learning activities and emphasises the fact that all learning can and should be applied knowledge.

By combining content and context, learning impacts real life: the purpose of learning is clear and students can build on prior knowledge.

Why use contextual learning strategies?

Especially if your teaching and learning revolves around real-world contexts or relies on successful knowledge transfer and application, contextualized learning experiences can speed up the learning process overall.

Contextual learning emphasizes that learning best happens in multiple and meaningful contexts. This helps to relate abstract theory and concepts to practical, real-life settings.

For instance, instead of being told how to use a new business planning software, users are shown how different features work and relate to their business operations. On top of that, the users get to actually use the software for training, executing exercises that mimic the tasks they would use the software for their routine tasks in the future.

Contextual learning emphasizes real-world problem-solving

Since learning occurs within the social context the new knowledge will be used, students can see real-world applications for the new concepts from the start.

Contextual learning is commonplace in many professions where disciplinary knowledge has practical implications.

For example, plumbers, electricians, and surgeons all need to be able to use their theoretical knowledge to problem-solve in a real-world context on a daily basis. It’s not enough to understand the theory of how electrical devices short-circuit; an electrician should also be able to know what to do to fix it.

Students’ own experiences as learning aids

Contextual learning processes encourage students to use their own experiences to construct meaning based on the topic at hand.

With learning activities involving hands-on exercises, learners can learn via trial and error, and eventually, use prior knowledge to develop their skills.

Instead of first learning theory and then putting the skills to practice afterwards, learners are encouraged to problem-solve within a specific context while learning.

Encourages group learning

Contextual learning encourages the students to take on more agency and actively problem-solve, as the instructor takes on a guiding role.

This approach is especially prevalent and useful in adult education and professional development, like digital adoption.

By facilitating knowledge sharing and joint problem-solving, contextual learning helps students share knowledge with each other and learn effective communication.

Supports independent learning

By understanding the bigger picture, or the reason behind a specific task, learners have an easier time reflecting and assimilating the theory into a specific context.

Since learning becomes the student’s responsibility, learning takes place at each individual’s own pace, giving the educators a more clear and authentic assessment of the skill level.

Learning new software can especially benefit hugely from a contextualized approach. With digital adoption tools (like ClickLearn), teaching and learning not only takes place within the new environment (software like Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce, for instance), but the students can choose the right type of content that best suits their learning. For some, that could mean reading detailed documentation, but for others, visual or audio cues could be more effective.

4 main benefits of contextual learning

From learning basic skills to teaching a specialist curriculum, various experiential learning theorists praise the effectiveness of contextualized learning, because:

  1. Contextual learning focuses on real-world problem-solving rather than only memorizing theory
  2. When students learn within the applied context, they are able to use their experiences as tools for more effective learning
  3. Learning together as a group is more likely, as the teacher takes a less active role in the teaching environment
  4. Contextualized learning values and encourages independent learning and learning by doing

Traditionally, learners have had to connect theory to practice on their own, outside of the classroom. While this lecture-driven method works for some, researchers studying the American education system have seen for decades the benefits of contextual learning strategies

The train-the-trainer model is an effective internal training model. Because people can ask for help on a day-to-day basis, it helps create a learning environment ripe for developing an agile workforce at the top of the field. 

Create impactful learning experiences with contextual learning

If you want people to gain a deeper level of understanding of what they are learning, and apply the theory in the proper context, consider developing a contextual learning approach to your teaching.

Whether you focus on child development or teach adult learners in the workplace, present information to learners in a way that is relevant to the context of your topic.

Tools like ClickLearn make professional development outcomes easier to achieve. By creating contextual software learning materials in different formats, ClickLearn helps to nurture learning for the many different ways people like to learn.

Trainers should be selected based upon their skill level and their passion for creating an engaging learning environment. 

8 Best Training Methods For Employees

Do you want to save this for later?

Save this blog post as a PDF and read it when and where you want.

Read these case studies

Table of Contents