Setting Context in eLearning


The dictionary defines context as:

…..Parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follows a specific word or

passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect; a set of circumstances or facts that

surround a particular event.

The definition of context sheds light on what we’ve all said at one time or another, “oh, but that doesn’t make sense, you’ve taken it out of context.” Context gives a larger meaning to how we respond to our surroundings and how we interpret a specific experience. When designing eLearning, it is important to remember who the audience is, and from what context they are completing the eLearning. For elearning to be meaningful to the learner, and a motivation to possibly initiate behavior change, it must be set in a context that matters to the learner. In other words, why is this learning important to the learner? How does the eLearning content relate to the learner and their challenges? Context setting shows the learner why the information presented is of value, and how it will help them in what they do, in areas they want to improve or understand more fully.

Think of context as a large outer circle around the entire eLearning. It sets the stage and a realistic environment in which the learning takes place. The designer’s role is to present content in a context that matters to the learner. This can be accomplished by telling and showing learners what they’ll understand and be able to do after completing the eLearning - and how it specifically relates to job responsibilities and performance goals and outcomes.

In addition to considering the context in which the content is presented, it’s important to think about the context of the learner– that is – what perspective does the learner have based on the context in which they live and work. This context comprises one’s reality and how the world is perceived, processed and understood.

Within the framework of context, eLearning must present itself in a relatable way to the learner. This means cultural aspects of the end learner and what constitutes the learner’s norms in day-to-day living must shine through. This can be accomplished through case studies and storytelling that integrate the real world and life within it. For example, tell a story of two women sharing work challenges while on a casual bike ride, or at a Starbucks. Similarly, businessmen may have a shouting conversation during a racket ball game about leadership changes at the office and the trickledown effect.

As we think about context, and creating eLearning, it becomes clearer how context plays a role in the design and delivery of eLearning. Context has several sides to it and it must be handled from each of them. This includes the learner’s perspective which is based on the context from which they are approaching the eLearning, the context of the material presented that presents the WIIFM – what’s in it for me – to the learner, and lastly how the eLearning creates an environment that is familiar and real for the learner.

From a pedagogical perspective, context setting in eLearning may be as important as defining learning objectives to ensure learning takes place. Then, it makes sense that eLearning context must align to learning objectives to ensure their relevance.

What are your thoughts about context in elearning? Do you find most eLearning successfully "sets the scene” to engage you as a learner? Do you see the relevance in the eLearning you complete? Please share your perspective.

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