eLearning Peril 2: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Application

Taking contextualized learning beyond theory

Education has always faced a challenge in connecting theoretical ‘book learning’ to real world applications in a meaningful way: empowering students to tackle the real world from the moment they leave the classroom each day.

Traditional education methods fall victim to Peril Two by emphasizing theory as the primary learning objective. The abstract, lecture-based learning method tends to focus on knowledge of concepts and theories rather than skills needed to implement that knowledge.

And it’s not just the growing need to be able to immediately apply knowledge in the workplace that’s driving the move away from traditional methods, especially in the engineering and construction industry. Statistically, learner engagement increases significantly when students are taught why they are learning the concepts and how those concepts can be used in real-world projects.

In the design and construction industries, being able to apply software skills to real world projects depends on training that frames the skills in the context of actual design and construction projects. This is where ‘Contextualized Learning’ demonstrates a strong improvement over traditional teaching and learning methods.

Contextualized learning

Contextualized learning is an educational practice based in cognitive science, which emphasizes placing the learning in context of the students’ real-life experiences and perspectives.

The Center for Occupational Research and Development notes that “learning occurs only when students process new information or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in their own frames of reference (their own inner worlds of memory, experience, and response). The mind naturally seeks meaning in context by searching for relationships that make sense and appear useful.”

Creating the contextualized learning experience

To use GeT’s virtual design software training as an example, the gap between theory and application is bridged by including these four basic stages in the training development:

  1. software essentials
  2. advanced workflows
  3. custom workflows
  4. strategic learning.

Software essentials are generally most effectively taught through two-way interactive online training catering to all four basic learning styles. Developing custom content that incorporates advanced and custom workflows along with real-world project examples then elevates the training to a more contextualized experience.

Even more strategically, the course designer can choose new real-world project details for each learning group and conduct training and project delivery simultaneously. This requires an ongoing partnership between the online training provider and the purchaser through a phased implementation.

Beware the peril

It can be tempting to implement traditional learning methods in an organization. They are, after all, familiar and budget-friendly in the short term; however, the cost and productivity benefits of using contextualized learning to bridge the theory and application gap in the long-term far outweigh any short-term cost savings made otherwise.

How have you approached implementing contextualized learning in your workplace?