In my book Engaging Learning, I had a suite of elements for both effective education practice and engaging experiences. Of course, the point was that they perfectly aligned. However, I’m unpacking a couple of them, and I thought it’d be helpful to ensure that I am clear about them, and so that you are too. So I’m unpacking some nuances in two different groups of elements.
For one, I talk about contextualized, anchored, and relevant. These three are related, but each plays a different role, and it’s important to be concerned about each separately.
Contextualized isn’t difficult. Research (e.g. Jonassen’s work) has shown that we perform better working from problems that are concrete rather than abstract. (Which is why those abstract problems kids are assigned in schools are so wrong!). We work better with concrete problems with facilitation to support abstraction and transfer. Otherwise we get ‘inert knowledge’, knowledge that we can pass a test on, but will never even activate in a relevant problem situation.
Anchored, here, means that it’s a real use of the knowledge. Instead of using problems about fractions of a crayon, for instance, it might be about serving food (pies, pizza). Similarly, engineering equations about curves could be used for a roller coaster instead of a abstract pattern. The activity using the knowledge should be the way it’d be used in the world.
That’s related to, but different from, being relevant. Not relevant to the learning, but to the learner. That is, the problem they’re solving is one that the learner cares about. So, for maritime enthusiasts, we might use geometry to figure out sail angles to the wind. While for gamers, we might use it to calculate graphics.
The second dichotomy is about active versus exploratory. They’re related, but each has an independent component.
For exploratory, I’m talking about learners having choices. That is, there are alternate choices of action. They can choose one or the other. The alternatives to the right answer, by the way, isn’t obvious or silly, but instead represents reliable ways learners get it wrong.
For active, I mean they must commit. It’s not enough to roll over the options and see the feedback, they have to choose one, and then see if it was right or not. And give consequences of their choices before feedback!
Unpacking some nuances helps, I hope, to ensure you address each separately, and consequently appropriately. Here’s to nuanced design!