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Foundations of Contextual Teaching and Learning

For nearly 40 years, CORD has been empowering teachers to make learning meaningful for students through the application of contextual teaching principles, rooted in brain-based learning theory.

What We Know About the Learning Process

students The convergence of learning theories suggests similar methods for more effective teaching and learning. For instance, if we accept Gardner's theory that the mind's capacity for learning is much broader than traditionally assumed, we can probably go along with Kolb's assertion that individuals have a natural ability to learn through a variety of methods. We can further conclude from the studies of Caine and Caine that connectedness is a key to effective learning. The following summary statements about effective learning are a distillation of the theories of intelligence and learning these researchers champion:

  • Most people learn best in a concrete manner involving personal participation, physical or hands-on activities, and opportunities for personal discovery.
  • Learning is greatly enhanced when concepts are presented in the context of relationships that are familiar to the student.
  • Most people relate better to concrete, tangible examples and experiences than to abstract conceptual models.
  • Most students learn best through some sort of personal interaction with other students—through study groups, team learning, and so on.
  • Rote memorization of isolated fragments of knowledge is a relatively inefficient and ineffective learning strategy for most students.
  • Transfer of learning from one situation to another is not consistently predictable, and the ability to do so is a skill that must be learned.

In the last forty years, only a few alterations in the content of elementary and secondary education have been necessary. Aside from a knowledge of computers, globalization, recent history, and environmental change, students need the same sound, solid education they needed four decades ago. Instead, the major changes needed in today's educational system center around processes. We need to:

  • Provide students with compelling reasons to remain in school,
  • Use the discoveries of cognitive science to help them achieve enhanced learning, and
  • Create learning environments that open their minds and enable them to become more thoughtful, participative members of society and the workforce.

Clearly, if the thrust of educational reform is on the classroom (and laboratories), the emphasis should be upon empowering teachers to facilitate these processes. But, for this to happen on a national level, teachers must be provided with suitable resources that contain career-oriented motivational elements, and be provided with sufficient institutional support (including professional development) to allow them to use new material and equipment effectively. In short, teachers and students must be immersed in contextual teaching and learning, and supported in their use of the REACT strategy.