Monday, December 28, 2015

Is your content out of context or in context? - Tip #86

We can learn from politicians. When they say "my comment was taken out of context", what they mean is that the press reporter used their statements giving it a different meaning, which is not the original intent of the politician. How does an idea, statement or content be taken out of context or stays in context?

Context Changes

Actually, in the learning world, context changes depend on the situation or condition. But where, how and why it changes is interesting since it shows us how to use and add context effectively.

Context is about meaning and application of ideas and things. Meaning comes from an inherent objective information (object) about a thing and/or an idea. It may also come from the interpretation of a person or a learner, or both.

As an example, a content says "1 + 1 = 2," this is an object. A learner may say, "One apple put together with another apple are two apples," this shows a context.

Another way of understanding context is about the movement of an idea (object) towards its application in real-life.  Another way of understanding context is about the movement of an idea (object) towards its application in real-life.  The content is the object while the context is the enabler. Ideas are not useful unless context is added to it.  The challenge is not context per se, but the difficulty in adding context and catching the shifting meaning depending on the conditions. The needs of the learners and workers varies and changes. Please refer to other definitions of context.

To aid in our discussion, I developed below The Motion of Content and Context.

Click to view enlarged image.
Motion of Content and Context - the Challenge

In the following explanation, I will refer to the row numbers and columns shown in the chart.

Many writers, designers and subject matter experts (SMEs) tend to look at content as a static idea. They focus on the object. They teach learners about the object of the content and fail to relate to a context. However, an even greater disservice to learners is not to move context depending on the different conditions (1). Learners easily sense this problem because the lesson is meaningless or irrelevant to them. This problem has its symptoms of over-reliance on teaching facts and testing and memorization. The approach of the lesson is rigid and inflexible (5). The proper solutions are not applied.

The Changes in Drivers are Powerful Context Enablers

The drivers of context (2)  have the greatest influence on the high value that context brings to the content. In elearning and classroom or similar settings where learners are being taught, the context is often dictated by the trainer, designer or SME. The opposite spectrum is when learners are self-driven. The learners have specific goals, usually a combination of personal and professional, that drive the context of the content.

Understanding that the Source of Context Helps Improve Design

A clear understanding of the source of the context (3) aids in adding the proper context to the learning content. In dealing with the challenges and use of solutions (5), the designers should emphasize different methods to help the motion of context. See Tip on Story-Based Questions.

If it is in a classroom or elearning setting where instruction is the main approach, asking learners thought-provoking questions to draw their own interpretation and experience adds meaning and context to their work situation. A simple question like "what is your experience and how would you approach this problem?" would move the context of the content and make the content relevant to the learner.

In Situated conditions where the learner must perform something on the job, the learning aid must be organized in such a way that the immediacy of solutions are effectively applied or used. For example, when workers need a process check to help them solve a problem, don't just provide the process in the learning aids. Provide simple rules that aid the learners to focus on what is critical in the process and what to test first, or what important points to pay attention to in the process. This approach assists the workers to help them think through the solution/s.

In conditions where Life Goals drive the learners towards self-development and discovery of solutions and aspirations by following their life goals - goals that combine personal and professional results - the learners should have clarity of their goals and the skill in critical thinking to help them find the context from the abundance of digital content they discover.  Unless they have the skills, they will be overloaded with content and unable to meet their goals.

Thinking Skills Needed

Many designers, facilitators and curators focus on the technology and speed.  However, they forget that in this mode of learning, not only is digital skills management required but also thinking process skills. Thinking skills may include: "What is my goal?", "What do I know about this content?", "What else do I need to discover?", "How do I go about it?", "How do others think and feel about this?", and "Am I meeting my goals?." This is the iterative thinking process. The thinking process aids the learner to move the context of the content into useful and meaningful value to his/ her life goals.


Content and context work hand in hand. Content is the object while context is the enabler to add value, usefulness and relevance. The challenge is that most content are presented without the context. And an even bigger problem is not realizing that context changes have taken place depending on the learning conditions. We need to be aware that different methods and skills are required if learners are to find context - meaning and relevance - of the content. In the world of massive content and rapid learning, context setting has to be "in-context" and not out-of-context."

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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