Contexts & Learning Systems

What in the World is Context?

Most laypeople would say the word context implies that one thing can mean something completely different in a dissimilar environment or when a unique set of circumstances arises.

However, for instructional designers, we have discovered it as the way designers can “engineer contextual elements to facilitate learning and performance, in conjunction with the instructional strategy employed” (Tessmer & Richey, 1997, p. 86).

Whether an ID subscribes to the minimalist, instrumentalist, or spiritualist inclination towards context, we all subconsciously recognize context as an important facet of the analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation stages.

Why Does Context Matter?

The way we learn and behave varies and is dependent upon the context of the situation or environment (Malamed, 2019). Context is affected by the learner’s physical, cultural, social, and technological environment, as well as their mental and emotional state at the time of learning and application. This is true for the military, a corporation, an educational entity, or the healthcare industry.

Some learning designers view context as “an instrument for promoting the achievement of cognitive or behavioral goals. Thus, learning environments or microworlds can be designed to facilitate the acquisition of problem-solving or self-regulation skills” (Tessmer & Richey, 1997, p. 86).

Basically, context matters because there are many layers to a learning environment, not just the physical location or resources, but also the social and political aspects that affect a learner and the outcomes.

The Context of Learning

When examining the elements of the learning system context, it is different for the military where they may focus more on attitudes or behaviors, whereas in an educational or corporate arena, the focus may be more on the acquisition of knowledge. Furthermore, in the healthcare industry, the learning context may focus more on the acquisition and application of skills.

As they say, “Different strokes for different folks.” Learning is not a one-size-fits-all remedy. Each learning environment is different, and the context of acquisition, retention, and application of newly acquired attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, & skills must be considered in order to have effective and efficient learning solutions and strategies.


  • Malamed, C. (2019). The importance of context in learning design. Retrieved from
  • Tessmer, M., and Richey, R.C. (1997). The role of context in learning and Instructional Design. ETR&D 45(2), pp. 85-115. ISSN 1042-1629.

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  1. I like the layout and the organization of your blog page. There is the micro context where learning is shaped by the context, but then there is the macro context of learning where the principles of human learning are similar. As an ID understanding the role of context is important to be able to shape learning.

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