March 20, 2023

Creating Contexts

Creating a context is educational art, and the real challenge is to break your expertise down into discrete units of knowledge and skills, which goes against your brain’s natural tendency.  You are asking your brain to regress and think inefficiently by its standards, and to surface its automated subconscious processes. It is not unlike an artist who must reduce a painting into brushstrokes that when viewed together reveal the image. In a similar way, each context that is worked through by learners contributes “brushstrokes” to their mental schema of understanding.

The first question for an educational artist is, “What portion of my mental schema with its facts, relationships, and judgment do I want my learners to acquire?”

Continuing with the art metaphor, there can be a tendency to think of a context in terms of a massive mural that in a single effort exercises vast sections of a learner’s mental schema. Avoiding this approach is not only merciful to your learners, it is merciful to you as well.

Begin with relatively simple contexts or exercises that focus on  intermediate tasks and subtasks. Then increase the complexity of contexts as you reinforce previous knowledge and skills, while progressively introducing new content. Once learners build competence and confidence, you can introduce even more complex contexts that demonstrate overall mastery of course content.

How to Link Content, Context, and Competency

1) Identify a competency
2) Identify what tasks and subtasks are required to perform that competency
3) Identify what thinking skills are required to perform the tasks and subtasks
4) Identify what content must be known to perform the thinking skills for the tasks and subtasks
5) Create intermediate contexts that exercise the identified thinking skills, and demonstrate mastery of each task and subtask
6) Create comprehensive contexts that require mastery of the intermediate tasks and subtasks to complete

Technical and Financial Barriers Context Creation

•Creating contexts can be expensive in terms of time and resources
•Tools for creating contexts can be complex and require a steep and time-consuming learning curve
•Creating contexts often requires interactions with information technology personnel
•Once created, contexts can be difficult to modify
•Contexts created by others can be difficult to adapt

A Solution to these Barriers

The Applied Learning Platform overcomes many of these technical and social barriers to authoring and sharing, and distributing contexts to learners, and is available at It is a product of Rick Mills Consulting LLC.
Free and subscription versions are available.

It is important to note that Context Applied Learning is agnostic with regard to any specific case authoring and distribution tool, or for that matter, any instrument that links course content to specific demonstrated competencies. What matters is that learners know what they know, and know how and when to apply what they know.