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.
Two forms of contextualization have been studied: “contextualized” and “integrated” instruction. Qualitative research on the contextualization of basic skills is more common than quantitative research with student outcome data. Furthermore, those quantitative studies that do exist have methodological flaws that limit conclusions. Further, only a small number of studies have been conducted on contextualization in the college context.
Despite these problems, contextualization seems to be a promising direction for accelerating the progress of academically underprepared college students. The contextualized approach is grounded in a conceptual framework relating to the transfer of skill and student motivation; practitioners who use it observe positive results, and the available quantitative evidence indicates that it has the potential to increase achievement.
A version of this paper was published as an article, "Facilitating Student Learning Through Contextualization: A Review of the Evidence," in Community College Review, July 2011.
This paper was also published as a chapter in Teaching Developmental Reading (2nd ed.), edited by Sonya L. Armstrong, Norman A. Stahl, & Hunter R. Boylan.