As industry experts may have told you many times, there is a huge gap between the skills required and expected from out-of-college graduates and post-graduates and their actual skills.
Why is there a gap? Why does it exist?
This gap is the result of a difference between theory and practice. It is due to the lack of contextualized learning (CL). It is the context that bridges the gap between theoretical and practical understanding.
Today’s rapidly evolving world poses unprecedented challenges to the youth educated in traditional methods of learning. Rapid technological advancements, changing job markets, and the increasing complexity of global issues necessitate a more adaptable and effective approach to education.
Bridging the Divide
Contextualized learning has emerged as a powerful educational strategy that addresses these challenges by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-life applications. Traditional education has often been criticized for not adequately preparing learners for practical challenges they may face in their careers and daily lives.
Contextualized learning addresses this concern by providing hands-on experiences and exposure to real-world scenarios. This enables learners to develop practical skills that are highly valued in the job market, such as problem-solving, decision-making, collaboration, and adaptability. As a result, graduates are better equipped to meet the demands of the workforce and contribute to society effectively.
According to Dan Hull, the theory of CL clearly states that students only learn when they process new knowledge or information in such a way that it makes sense and meaning in their frame/point of reference.
Also, this approach to education (teaching and learning) makes an assumption about our mind that in its natural state, the mind always searches for meaning in contexts and looks for relationships between the know-how and its practical usefulness, which provides them with a clear sense of understanding.
Thus, to fully prepare the students to face real-life scenarios and challenges and tackle them effectively, CL is the best option. It can help them not only in classrooms or labs but also in their future workplaces.
Smart educators will design learning environments that effectively imitate real life, to which learners can relate easily. And they can also find out connections between unrealistic ideas and their everyday limitations in a real-world context.
Contextualized learning, often called authentic learning, is an educational approach that emphasizes applying knowledge in real-world contexts. Rather than focusing solely on theoretical concepts, contextualized learning integrates practical experiences, relevant scenarios, and authentic problem-solving situations into the learning process. By connecting theoretical knowledge to practical problems, learners develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, making it more meaningful and memorable.
Contextualized Learning Strategies:
A learning strategy based on CL is structured to cultivate five types of learning in a student.
*Relating-Learning by association is a strategy where students are helped to establish a link between their prior knowledge and the new information provided to them.
For example, when a teacher wishes to provide information about a slope and gives it, like when you join the tip of the y-axis to the tip of the x-axis, you get a slope.
Here, for primary or even secondary grade students’ x and y-axis is a new information. In everyday life, they never look at vertical lines as the x-axis and horizontal lines as the y-axis.
Instead, if the teacher shows them a real-life picture of a slope, like a road sign which they see daily, they can easily relate to it.
And their mind will keep this new info of a slope by associating it with that road sign. That way, they will remember it forever.
*Experiencing-Here the context is experience or exploration, discovery, and invention. Students learn faster when provided with materials and equipment to carry out their own research, not to perform the real job, but to practice the relevant actions of it.
For example, instead of just telling them how to create a community podcast, give them the relevant equipment through which they will conduct their own research and create a live community podcast along with their group/partners.
*Applying-Learning new information or concept and applying it in a useful context. Here, students will project themselves into an imagined future (like their favorite career) or into a non-familiar location (workplace, workshop, production plant, etc.).
For example, first, they will be presented with the info or concept, and then either they will be shown photos or videos of the place where their information and concepts are implemented, or they will be taken to an actual live place like a workshop or production plant.
*Cooperating-Learning in the context of sharing, responding, and communicating with each other. Alone, students will not progress as much as they will by collaborating their efforts in a team or a group.
Working in a team or a group helps students easily find solutions to complex problems. It will help them in the future at their own real workplace, where they can effectively communicate, share, and be comfortable with their team/group members.
For example, to understand the concept of a lottery, students can be divided into groups/teams by asking them questions about the functioning of the lottery through a game in the ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ style. They will play the game collectively and will find out the answers easily.
*Transferring-By transferring the existing knowledge into learning of a new concept. It is used to expand students’ prior knowledge into areas hitherto unknown to them.
For example, to check students’ knowledge about the slope of a line, the teacher can show them a photograph of an old motorbike. Now they can be told about its varying prices. That is, when it was new in 2015, its price was $10,000, down to $5000 in 2020.
And then the teacher can ask them a question about in which year they’ll be able to buy it for $2000. Here, students will apply their prior knowledge of a downward slope line to the new concept of price depreciation and learn it in a better way.
A Smart Future
In the information age, learners are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of data. The challenge lies in making this information relevant and useful. Contextualized learning offers a solution by helping learners identify the connections between various pieces of information and understand how they apply in real-life situations. This approach fosters a deeper grasp of knowledge and encourages learners to become critical thinkers who can apply their knowledge creatively and innovatively.
A smart way to create CL environments is the integration of modern technologies into education. For example, extended reality (XR) can create real-life-like virtual contextualized learning models which are highly immersive and fascinating.
Tech can bring out CL’s full potential and provide students with a seamless learning experience without any abrupt breaks. Virtually Contextualized Learning (VCL) is the new age of education and its future.
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