Compiled by: Andrew Dease

Contextual Teaching and Learning Theory

To improve your Languages please click on the following link

The contextual learning theory is based on the notion that learning can only occur when students are able to connect content with context. That is, students must be able to relate the lesson presented in a classroom setting to something familiar in his or her daily life. This theory is used heavily in career and technical education by relating much of the content in the classroom to the world of work through many different avenues.

A study by the US Department of Education, through its Office of Vocational and Adult Education, produced the following definition of the contextual learning theory:

“Contextual teaching and learning is a conception of teaching and learning that helps teachers relate subject matter content to real world situations; and motivates students to make connections between knowledge and its applications to their lives as family members, citizens, and workers and engage in the hard work that learning requires.” (Berns, 2001)

Examples of contextual teaching and learning theory strategies include:

Problem-based - CTL can begin with a simulated or real problem. Students use critical thinking skills and a systemic approach to inquiry to address the problem or issue. Students may also draw upon multiple content areas to solve these problems. Worthwhile problems that are relevant to students’ families, school experiences, workplaces, and communities hold greater personal meaning for students.

Using multiple contexts - Theories of situated cognition suggest that knowledge can not be separated from the physical and social context in which it develops. How and where a person acquires and creates knowledge is therefore very important. CTL experiences are enriched when students learn skills in multiple contexts (i.e. school, community, workplace, family).

Drawing upon student diversity - On the whole, our student population is becoming more diverse, and with increased diversity comes differences in values, social mores, and perspectives. These differences can be the impetus for learning and can add complexity to the CTL experience. Team collaboration and group learning activities respect students’ diverse histories, broaden perspectives, and build inter-personal skills.

Supporting self-regulated learning - Ultimately, students must become lifelong learners. Lifelong learners are able to seek out, analyze, and use information with little to no supervision. To do so, students must become more aware how they process information, employ problem-solving strategies, and use background knowledge. CTL experiences should allow for trial and error; provide time and structure for reflection; and provide adequate support to assist students to move from dependent to independent learning.

Using interdependent learning groups - Students will be influenced by and will contribute to the knowledge and beliefs of others. Learning groups, or learning communities, are established in workplaces and schools in an effort to share knowledge, focus on goals, and allow all to teach and learn from each other. When learning communities are established in schools, educators act as coaches, facilitators, and mentors.

Employing authentic assessments - CTL is intended to build knowledge and skills in meaningful ways by engaging students in real life, or "authentic" contexts. Assessment of learning should align with the methods and purposes of instruction. Authentic assessments show (among other things) that learning has occurred; are blended into the teaching/learning process; and provide students with opportunities and direction for improvement. Authentic assessment is used to monitor student progress and inform teaching practices. (Wisconsin-Madison, University of, 2000)

The varying strategies for implementing contextual teaching and learning include (Berns):

Problem-based learning – An approach that engages learners in problem-solving investigations that integrate skills and concepts from many content areas. This approach includes gathering information around a question, synthesizing it, and presenting findings to others.

Cooperative learning - An approach that organizes instruction using small learning groups in which students work together to achieve learning goals.

Project-based learning - An approach that focuses on the central concepts and principles of a discipline, involves students in problem-solving investigations and other meaningful tasks, allows students to work autonomously to construct their own learning, and culminates in realistic products.

Service learning - An approach that provides a practical application of newly acquired (or developing) knowledge and skills to needs in the community through projects and activities.

Work-based learning - An approach in which workplace, or workplace-like, activities are integrated with classroom content for the benefit of students and often businesses.

Berns, R. (2001). Contextual Teaching and Learning:Preparing Students for the New Economy. The Highlight Zone: Research @ Work , 8. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from

Wisconsin-Madison, University of. (2000, December 19). What is contextual teaching and learning? Retrieved July 20, 2009, from TeachNET:


To improve your Languages please click on the following link