Facilitating Student Learning through Contextualization

This paper is a literature review that explores the nature and effectiveness of contextualization as a way to improve outcomes for academically underprepared college students.

D. Perin
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This Brief provides a background on contextualized instruction in community college settings, discusses the research base, and summarizes practices and outcomes from a review of 27 research studies related to contextualized instruction. The author identifies two forms of contextualization – contextualized basic skills instruction and integrated skills instruction and compares and contrasts the two. Based on the review and analysis of the 27 studies, he suggests that the following approaches may be beneficial in the implementation of contextualized instruction in a community college setting: (1) creating conditions for interdisciplinary collaboration among basic skills instructors and content area instructors; (2) providing continual professional development and follow up for instructors; (3) developing assessment procedures to evaluate the impact of contextualization; (4) identifying courses where contextualization may be beneficial; and (5) collecting outcome data for the contextualized courses.

What the experts say

The resource clearly makes the case for contextualized or integrated instruction in the community college classroom, but the information is valuable for adult educators that work with basic skills, career pathways programs, and transitions to postsecondary education programs. Contextualized instruction has been getting more and more use in the field of adult education and is thought to be an effective instructional strategy. Basic skills instruction with explicit connection to meaningful content is assumed to engage students’ interest and facilitate instruction. Adult education practitioners will find the author’s suggestions for collaborations, professional development, assessment, implementation and evaluation practical and achievable. Although research on low-skilled adults in community colleges is limited and the results are inconclusive, the author suggests that the positive research results that were identified support further exploration of contextualized instruction.

What will be most useful to adult education practitioners or administrators from this resource is the list of practical implications and recommendations. One of the summarizing statements addresses several current critical issues in the field. “Among the many different innovations underway that attempt to promote the learning of low-skilled college students (Perin & Charron, 2006), contextualization seems to have the strongest theoretical base and perhaps the strongest empirical support. …However, the studies also indicate that considerable effort is needed to implement contextualization because instructors need to learn from each other and collaborate across disciplines, a practice that is not common in college settings.” As adult education is charged with transitioning students to postsecondary and forming relationships with these providers, perhaps models of professional development and collaboration that are found in the adult education system can be utilized here. Ongoing research and professional development is needed both in the adult education and community college fields to support practices that lead to improved outcomes for students.

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