March 31, 2017
How Important is Context in Learning?
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Over the course of my career and in my current stint as a doctoral student in the Educational Psychology and Technology program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, I’ve identified a few learning models I believe are crucially important to the contextualization of learning. Let’s take a look at how the application of Experiential Learning, Situated Cognition and the Theory of Motivation help customize an overall learning experience to produce significant outcomes for both the learner (i.e. an employee) and the organization.
David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle illuminates the process that occurs as part of an organization’s formal and informal learning experiences. It asserts effective learning occurs when a person progresses through a learning cycle of four stages:
(1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.
Albeit unsophisticated, this practical approach directs designers (like me) to plan to the level of our audience’s expertise (i.e. novice, mid-level or expert). It calls for us to build organic curriculum that spurs relevant outcomes. It allows us to contextualize learning experiences. It makes us better designers.
According to Merriam & Bierema’s Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice, Situated Cognition is “learning in practice in context.” Learning is perceived as a socio-cultural experience rather than the procurement of general knowledge. Contextualized content creates authentic takeaways for the learner.
While this approach has always been observed in my design process, it was particularly prevalent in an online focus group I conducted for the professional development of K-12 teachers (Integrating Practices CCS- Math and the Next Generation Science Standards). As we evaluated and discussed the program’s outcomes, the educators repeatedly requested additional genuine, applicable experiences that could be integrated into their own professional learning communities.
Theory of Motivation
In his book Work and Motivation, Dr. Victor H. Vroom explains the three different choices that govern employees’ actions, behavior and ultimately outcomes in the workplace:
Valence refers to an inclination toward one particular outcome or another.
Expectancy relates to the probability that an outcome can be achieved.
Force (motivational) combines the expectancy and the valence.
Vroom’s findings point to some of the basic motivational dynamics I believe drive learners (like me). For example, as an enrollee in the Educational Psychology and Technology program, my motivation to complete an EdD and (ultimately) enhance my career will be driven by my perceived outcomes (why am I doing this?).
I become the force.
While there are an infinite number of dynamics that affect the effectiveness of learning today, I’ve found the fine art of context to be the most valuable as I operate from the lens of a practitioner and, even more importantly, as a learner.
I promise you won’t be quizzed afterward, but study up on these enlightening models if you haven’t already. They provide us with a unique vantage point to the process of learning.
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