Learning in context
Domizi, Denise Pinette
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Context plays an important role in any learning situation. Falk and DierkingÕs (2000) Contextual Model of Learning (CML) was conceived as a framework through which to look at the complexities of learning through interactions between personal, social, and physical contexts over time. The purpose of this study was to explore the role of personal, sociocultural, and physical contexts on the short- and long-term perceptions and learning of adult participants in a natural, informal learning environment. This study used a qualitative embedded case study design. Data were collected using a background questionnaire, interviews, and participant observation. Small groups of adult passengers on a whale-watching boat were interviewed immediately before and immediately after a whale-watching trip, and again six months later to determine if the experience as a whole, along with the on-board educational program, had any effects on perceptions and learning. The CML served as a framework for this research, considering personal context (including motivations and expectations; prior knowledge, interests, and beliefs; and choice and control), sociocultural context (interactions with companions and other visitors, as well as with facilitators), and the physical context (with considerations for comfort, safety, as well as the designed and natural experience). Findings suggest that these contexts, both separately and together, played an important role in how the participants perceived the experience, and the learning that happened as a result of the experience. Further, the findings indicate that subsequent reinforcing events are critical for learning and elaboration to happen over time. This study contributes to the small but growing literature that focuses on context and adult learners in informal environments over a period of time.
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