Context-Embedded Learning Part I: Learning By Doing (Intro)

This is part of the Context-Embedded Learning section of my dissertation lit review:

Perhaps the most fundamental property of a constructivist learning environment is that it offers a context for student learning.

Context-embedded learning has been a cornerstone of the constructivist movement since at least the early 1900’s. Now, nearly a century later, video games and simulations can offer new contexts for student learning that would not have been available to students in the past. Video games are able to provide students with a context that allows them to learn by doing, remain in a state of flow, explore microworlds that allow easy transfer of learning, develop situated and distributed understanding, exercise new identities, and benefit from role-playing.

Learning By Doing

While traditional teaching and learning tends to be a passive experience for the student who receives knowledge from the teacher, constructivist pedagogy emphases learning by doing, learning from experience, and problem solving in context. In order to learn by doing, a student must not simply read from a textbook or listen to a lecture. Rather, the student must engage authentic (or real-world) problems in their authentic context.

Dewey (1915), for instance, felt that school work was “remote and shadowy compared with the training of attention and of judgment that is acquired in having to do things with a real motive behind and a real outcome ahead” (p. 12). He later noted that “one trouble [with traditional education] is that the subject-matter in question was learned in isolation” (1938, p. 48). Dewey (1915) was much more interested in students “having a part to do in constructive work” (p. 17). Consequently, he called for each student to be “given, wherever possible, intellectual responsibility for selecting the materials and instruments that are most fit, and given an opportunity to think out his own model and plan of work, led to perceive his own errors, and find out how to correct them” (p. 133-134). He believed that “thinking… arises from the need of meeting some difficulty, in reflecting upon the best way of over coming it, and thus… planning [and] projecting mentally the results to be reached, and deciding upon the steps necessary and their serial order” (p. 135).

Bruner (1966), too, urged educators to “consider education and school learning in their situated, cultural context” (p. x). He believed that “in a [traditional] detached school, what is imparted often has little to do with life as lived in the society” (1966, p. 152). He was interested more in history as a discipline than as a curriculum and he believed “it is a lame excuse to say children can’t do it” (Bruner, 1996, p. 91). Invoking Piaget’s little scientist, he also expressed that “learning to be a scientist is not the same as ‘learning science’: it is learning a culture, with all the attendant ‘non-rational’ meaning making that goes with it” (Bruner, 1996, p. 132). Ultimately, Bruner was interested in “knowing as doing” (p. 150) and “understanding by doing something other than just taking” (p. 151).

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.

4 Responses to “Context-Embedded Learning Part I: Learning By Doing (Intro)”

  1. Patrick Says:

    I’m enjoying reading your lit review. Thanks for posting. Very interesting topic. Video games, or perhaps learning simulations are a more professional term, do have potential in education, but unfortunately until a company develops a concrete example, most practicing educators won’t understand its full potential. And with the costs of video game production increasing with each advancement in hardware, most companies play it safe- ie sequels, movie tie ins, etc…. and rarely experiment beyond the standard “video game” formula….

    Time to play Oregon Trail and Civilization……. :-)

  2. Educational Technology and Life » Blog Archive » Boredom and The Terminal Degree Says:

    […] Thankfully, comments like this are motivating, too… so the blog remains more motivating and stimulating than writing a dissertation, even when it’s the same material. :) […]

  3. Glenn Says:

    “Time to play Oregon Trail and Civilization……. :-)”

    That’s the second Oregon Trail reference I’ve heard today. It was on a “You know you’re a child of the 80’s when…” list. Good times.

  4. Mark Wagner Says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Patrick. (I’m just catching up on comments today.) You’ve definitely hit on a big logistical problem… academia is unequipped to make good games, and good game developers are uninterested in academia. I’m hoping my study might do something to close that gap, but the economical hurdle is significant.