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Context-Embedded Learning

Context plays a significant role in teaching and learning. Centering learning in contexts that are meaningful to students is an essential step in developing programmes of learning that will support improved engagement and achievement. 

Increasingly it is understood that education is preparing students with the capabilities (knowledge, attitudes, skills, values and dispositions) to make sense of and respond to current and future issues and challenges. Many of these issues are complex, bringing together knowledge and perspectives from social, cultural, technological, economic, and scientific viewpoints. Almost all are values laden.

To support the development of capabilities to enable young people to become critically engaged citizens, education needs to engage in real issues, allowing students to develop and test their capabilities with issues that are relevant, and ideally that they have some power to act upon. 

A context-embedded learning approach requires learning resources that support students to explore a context. In the case of the HSLeaP programmes these are socio-scientific issues. Through this process of exploration students are supported to develop understanding of the nature and process of science, interactions between science, social sciences, and health, as well as relevant concepts of science, health and social sciences. Appropriate opportunities for development of core literacy and numeracy across the curriculum are plentiful in context embedded learning and should be encouraged. 

If the learning experiences are built to enable students to engage with appropriately re-imaged scientific, health and sociological data and through this explore the work of researchers and communities engaged in understanding and addressing the issue, students will also have the opportunity to explore aspects of the culture of science and research communities.




Identifying appropriate contexts

When selecting a context for learning it is useful to ask:

  • Is the context going to be meaningful to adolescents of this age-group?
  • Will exploration of the context support development of understanding of science, health and social sciences?
  • Does the context relate to an issue for which students of this age potentially have some relevant decision-making power?
  • Is the context relevant to the wider community?
  • Is the context important to the science and research communities? Do they want to engage with the public in the communication of science and health research related to this context and do they have evidence to share that will be relevant to the community.

Context-Embedded Learning: A Journey from Exploration to Action

Context Embedded Learning
Context Embedded Learning. Redrawn from Bay JL and Mora HA (2016) Te Maki Toto Vene (T2): E Manamanata no Toku Iti Tangata. Read Pacific Publishers. New Zealand

The noncommunicable disease (NCD) epidemic presents a wide range of opportunities for students to explore the ways in which this socio-scientific issue impacts on people and communities, the basic scientific and sociological concepts underpinning key aspects of the issue, and the complexity of the ways in which knowledge from science, social sciences and the community need to be integrated to address aspects of this issue. Including stories of science, scientists and researchers amongst this array enables students to enter into the world of science and research and take a role as researchers within the setting of their inquiry, using skills and understanding to explore aspects of the context / socio-scientific issue.


Is this not the same as inquiry learning?

Context embedded learning is indeed very similar to inquiry learning. However, inquiry learning traditionally starts with a question posed by the student, and therefore sits within the contextual experience of the student. This process has limitations as the student can only shape questions for which they have some level of experience. Context embedded learning introduces students to a context, allowing them to explore the context and develop potentially completely new perspectives on an issue they are aware of, or awareness of an issue they were not previously exposed to. This allows the student to actively drive the development of a question for inquiry, or to refine a large question to enable focused inquiry. Thus the student is still driving the direction of their inquiry within the context, however, they are not limited by their prior experience to contexts for which they have prior experience (Bay & Mora 2016, page 3). 


Recommended Reading for Teachers

Hipkins R, Bolstad R, Boyd S, McDowall S. Key competencies for the future, 2014. NZCER Press: New Zealand

Perkins D. Future wise: Educating our children for a changing world, 2014. John Wiley & Sons

Bay JL, Mora HA. Te Maki Toto Vene (T2): E Mananamanta no Tuku Iti Tangata [Exploring Type 2 Diabetes: A socio-scientific issue for my community] Teacher Resource Cook Islands Edition. 2016. Read Pacific Publishers. New Zealand