Functional Context (Tom Sticht)
The functional context approach to learning stresses the importance of making learning relevant to the experience of learners and their work context. The learning of new information is facilitated by making it possible for the learner to relate it to knowledge already possessed and transform old knowledge into new knowledge. By using materials that the learner will use after training, transfer of learning from the classroom to the "real world" will be enhanced.
The model of the cognitive system underlying this approach emphasizes the interaction of three components: (1) a knowledge base (i.e., long term memory) of what the individual knows, (2) processing skills including language, problem-solving, and learning strategies, and (3) information displays that present information. The performance of a task requires knowledge about what one is reading or writing, processing skills for comprehension and communication, and displays of information to be processed.
The functional context approach also proposes new assessment methods. Instead of using grade level scores, tests should measure content knowledge gained and distinquish between functional learning and academic learning. For example, an assessment of readi ng should measure both reading-to-do (e.g., looking up information in a manual) and reading-to-learn (e.g., information needed for future decisions).
Functional context theory shares a similar emphasis with Situated Learning theory which also stresses the importance of context during learning.
The functional context approach was developed specifically for adult technical and literacy training (reading/writing/mathematics) in military programs, but it has implications for learning of basic skills in general (e.g., Sticht, 1976) and reading in particular (Sticht, 1975). Sticht's functional context framework has been the basis for major workplace training and literacy programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education.
The Experimental Functional Skills Program in Reading< (XFSP/Read) was developed by Sticht and colleagues for the Navy. The purpose of the program was to improve the reading and mathematics skills of enlisted personnel using the functional context approach . A job/task analysis was performed to identify the reading-to-do and reading-to-learn skills needed in Navy jobs. On the basis of this analysis, print and computer-based instructional materials were developed for the program that involved Navy content (such as technical manuals). In addition, a Navy-related reading test was created in order to measure achievement in the program.
For a more complete list of Sticht’s publications, see http://www.nald.ca/fulltext/sticht/jan02/11.htm
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