Making Learning Meaningful

3 Benefits of Contextualized Learning
Dr. Nermeen Dashoush
Clinical Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education
and Chief Curriculum Officer for MarcoPolo World School
What is Contextualized Learning?

Imagine learning how to drive without ever getting in a car. Information is given to you without context or application, and is therefore meaningless and fragmented. In the same way, we teach young children the alphabet song without showing them that these letters make sounds, and that those sounds make words.

Contextualized learning does the opposite. It presents knowledge in a way that is meaningful and interesting to the learner because it is connected to real world application. Children are particularly curious about the natural world, so grounding their learning within this context allows them to gain a fuller understanding of the concepts being taught. The more interest a child has, the deeper their learning will be, and the more likely they will be to retain what they have learned over time.

In MarcoPolo World School, each learning activity is set within an experience, rather than existing in isolation. These MarcoPolo experiences enable children to explore virtual environments that would normally be out of their reach, and construct their own contextualized knowledge around them.

So what are the main benefits?

1. It increases engagement

When a child is presented with information within a context that they find appealing, they are more likely to engage and stay immersed for longer periods of time. A child learning to read will rapidly lose interest in learning that the letter “A” makes the “Ah” sound. However, when “A” is for “antelope”, and the child is excited to learn about that animal, then the learning has meaning to the child and is simply more fun! As an added bonus, this joyful experience builds on the child’s natural love for learning and keeps them motivated to go back and learn more.

2. It allows children to apply their knowledge

Take our first scenario - imagine being taught to drive from a manual, and then being asked to actually drive a car. Most people would not be able to start the engine. The same applies to any skill, such as adding. A child can easily memorize that 4 and 4 make 8. However, if you ask them how many legs two cows have, they probably won’t be able to apply the concept.
Contextualized learning makes that connection obvious to the learner. If a child learns that 4 and 4 make 8 through counting actual things, they will be able to apply this knowledge in other situations.

3. It enhances children’s curiosity

When children are driven by curiosity to explore, they develop lifelong skills such as creativity, flexible thinking and problem solving. Providing context for young learners not only sparks their interest, but also leads them to develop their own ideas and questions. As a child watches a video about glaciers, they will start wondering about the animals that live on glaciers, how they move, and where in the world they are located. This experience is far more meaningful for the child than that of memorizing how to spell the word ‘glacier’ without any context. If an activity can keep a child’s curiosity alive, their learning will be endless!

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