When it comes to educating staff or your target audience, it is most effective to educate contextually, for a number of reasons.
What Is Contextual Learning?
Contextual learning is based on the theory that all students will be able to use and retain information if it is put into a context that is understandable and relevant to their personal life and experiences.
In former times, students were forced to learn by rote, memorize material so they could recite it word for word and respond only to question and answer interactions with the teacher. Their knowledge was drilled into them, with little or no exploration of whether or not the information was relevant in the real world. A child might be able to recite their times table by heart, for example, but could they do simple sums on their slates?
Contextual education recognizes that learning is a complex process which involves a student’s personality and perceptions, and that the information learned should make sense and be useful.
For example, people once studied the classics, Latin and Ancient Greek, as a stepping stone to careers in medicine, law, or the Church. Now the only people who study these subjects tend to be people who want to earn a degree in Ancient History or languages. They are no longer necessary to survive and thrive in a good career. On the other hand, Microsoft Word and being able to use the internet are essential skills few modern people can survive without.
Meaningful Adult Education
Adults in particular do not learn in a vacuum and really have no time to learn things in an abstract way. They do better with hands-on experience and concrete examples. For instance, you can read a book all about PowerPoint, or you can find a step-by-step guide that teaches you how to create your first presentation. It will have illustrations and examples, and be full of shortcuts such as what menu items to use, so you don’t have to spend ages trying to find what you are looking for.
The best contextual educational material will provide specifics, and action steps to ensure the student accomplishes their goals. This is one of the reasons online coaching programs have become so popular.
Coaching provides context, knowledge and support. The student has a goal they wish to accomplish. The coaching program should be structured in a way that will allow them to achieve that goal without wandering around the topic aimlessly in a confused fog.
Around 70% of people are visual learners, so videos can be a great way to provide contextual learning. Some people like audiobooks rather than reading, so downloadable files they can listen to on their smartphone, iPod or other devices are ideal.
The Advantages of Contextual Learning
Contextual learning helps students apply what they discover. They see real-world examples and can model their own work on what really works, so they don’t waste their time. They can engage actively in problem solving, such as how to create a numbered list in PowerPoint or produce a gorgeous graphic using SmartArt.
Contextual learning also offers continual feedback from the instructor, and from their own results. They can see how their deck turns out, for example, and they can then explore ways to improve it. The contextual method engages students, making them eager to learn more because they can see the value of what they are learning, and because they want to do better.
If you are not already teaching staff and prospective customers contextually, it’s time to start designing materials such as sales letters, coaching materials and more. This will make your target audience more active and engaged learners who will stay loyal to your business, because it is so relevant to their lives and offers such great value in terms of their personal growth.