November 20, 2018

Context-Applied Learning

Educators know what they know, and they know how to apply what they know. They can do this because they have not only developed a rich mental schema of facts that are meaningfully related, they also know which relevant sections of their schema to activate when presented with a given situation. In addition, they have established frameworks for approaching similar problems.

The challenge for learners is to build and refine their own mental schema, and know when to activate it appropriately.

Context-Applied Learning supports a do, think, and learn approach to building a mental schema by organizing, presenting, and applying course material in a context in which it will be used. In addition, when new concepts are introduced they are presented in the context of others that have been mastered previously. This build-upon and reinforce approach enables learners to progressively extend their existing schema without having to manage a myriad of disconnected fragments of thought.

Context-Applied Learning also provides that educators model their expert thinking skills in the classroom as they apply course material in authentic contexts such as exercises, scenarios, cases, etc., and require learners to do the same.

Context-Applied Learning directly links course content with the performance of specific competencies, along with an understanding of when a competency is indicated. As such, Context-Applied Learning focuses not only on knowledge and skill, but also on judgment.

The Context-Applied Learning approach begins with the end in mind by asking an educator,

“What do you want learners to be able to do?” followed by
“What thinking skills will they need?” And finally, the beginning,
“What course content will learners need to understand to develop and use those thinking skills?

Three distinct objectives with Context-Applied Learning

1) Doing objectives - What competencies must be mastered?

Master intermediate tasks and subtasks
Master comprehensive abilities that demonstrate competence and evidence of knowing...not just learning

2) Thinking objectives - What thinking skills must be developed?

Identify relevant observations in a context
Analyze the observations
Synthesize an explanation of the observations
Summarize a conclusion if indicated
Recommend an intervention if indicated

3) Content Objectives - What content must be understood? (Exposure to content is not adequate)

Acquire content

Context-Applied Learning is agnostic with regard to any specific software for authoring and distribution contexts, though one effective resource is the Applied Learning Platform, which is available at When educators and learners use the platform to work through the same contexts, they can compare their assessments and see what one another is thinking. The platform is a product of Rick Mills Consulting LLC. Free and subscription versions are available.

Rick Mills Consulting LLC