Online Course: Designing Contextualized Instruction

Update! The Adult Career Pathways online courses are now available on LINCS!

LINCS is adding the opportunity for professional development for its members in the form of a series of optional online courses developed by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s initiative Adult Career Pathways. These online courses are self-paced, freely available, and accessible 24 hours a day through the LINCS Learning Portal. The courses will enable users to work at their own pace, at a time that is most convenient to them. 


Online Course: Designing Contextualized Instruction

The Designing Contextualized Instruction online course helps teachers understand contextualized instruction and its supporting research base and discover how to use the contextual model of instruction to develop adult career pathways courses, and how to identify and overcome common challenges in developing contextualized instruction.  The course is self-paced and features three modules: (1) Understanding Contextualized Instruction; (2) Building Contextualized Lessons; and (3) Overcoming Development Challenges. The modules link to this discussion thread (Title: Online Course: Designing Contextualized Instruction) within the LINCS Community Career Pathways group to provide opportunities for you to discuss how to apply the course information in your teaching with your colleagues from around the country.

Use this discussion thread to post your responses to questions below from the online course, Designing Contextualized Instruction. Please share your comments to any of the following questions, or post a general comment or feedback on the course:

1. Introduce yourself.

2. Share your tips and best practices for techniques, strategies and resources that help you refresh your knowledge and enhance your skills.

3. Share your experience developing and using rubrics to evaluate your students’ learning.

4. After watching the two videos on contextualize teaching and learning, consider and respond to the following:

  • What is the role of the teachers in the program?
  • How would you describe the teachers’ attitudes toward teaching contextually?
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction?
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? How do their comments compare with those of your learners?
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video?

5. Share your lesson plans, courses, activities and curricula that contain ABE or ESL content, as well as content related to a specific career pathway.

6. Discuss your newly acquired knowledge and learn about others’ experiences in designing contextualized instruction to enhance their ACP programs.


This online course was developed under the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Designing Instruction for Career Pathways initiative under Contract No. ED-CFO-10-A-0072/0001, which developed and delivered trainings and online courses to adult education providers in order to increase the quality and quantity of adult career pathways programs.


The new LINCS Learning Portal offers adult educators free online professional development courses from a variety of OVAE initiatives. Join today at:


I just wanted to remind you of this course that was introduced to us back in September.  It is the last of the DICP resources that we are highlighting.  Since I don't have anything to add to this summary that I-Fang gave us, I'm just adding this post to remind you that the course is available.  Her questions are good discussion starters, and with all of the other resources we have on this topic, it seems a good time to start this chat!

Donna Brian

SME, Career Pathways

Hi, I'm Phil Anderson and I work in the Adult ESOL program of the Florida Department of Education. Viewing the video of teachers and students talking about their experiences with contextualized instruction, I was struck by how both teachers and students used the same words to describe it - "Hands on" especially. One student said that once they got to the place of putting their hands on the tools, they felt they had succeeded. 

I taught in adult education in Pennsylvania in a variety of programs and with all types of students. I am now working as a workforce development specialist to help adult education programs implement better strategies to help students set clear and reasonable career goals and meet them. 

In my experience, one thing that many new instructors to adult education often struggled with is actually contextualizing instruction to match students' goals. For those teachers that came out of the k12 system, making contextualized lessons seems reasonable. So you need to paint a room and use that as a context for math skills. However, if I am teaching area in the adult education classroom, and I have a student improving basic skills and hoping to go to CDL training, another wanting to be a nurse, another looking at plumbing; how do I contextualize effectively. There might not be a one size fits all lesson, you may have to teach the concept and then give each student something to do with area that is more related to their goal. This is where contextualized instruction can get a little overwhelming at times for teachers, however, if we do this right, learners are more engaged and more successful.

Thanks for your introduction!  You make a great point about the challenges of teaching contextualized lessons when you have learners in different career pathways in the same class.  I like your suggestion of teaching the concept, and then using extension activities to add context based on students' career choices.  However, as you said, it can still be a little overwhelming for the teacher to create these scenarios. 

One suggestion is to make the contextualized part of the lesson more student-driven.  Assuming that each student has other more career-focused classes, ie. CNA, welding, computer networking, etc., you can try handing the task over to them to think about how the concepts you're teaching apply to their profession.  They might even interview their career instructors to help them consider these questions, if they need support in bridging the materials between the two classes.  This gives the learner ownership over the material, reduces the burden on the teacher, and creates an opportunity for each learner to share their extension with classmates, so that everyone benefits from seeing how the concept applies to different careers, not just their own.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

  • What is the role of the teachers in the program? facilitator, coordinator, guide to finding, developing and applying appropriate and systematic knowledge required for this career pathway.
  • How would you describe the teachers' attitudes toward teaching contextually?  The teachers are more engaged and excited to facilitate a process that inspires learners. 
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction? guided instruction; encouragement of explanations and questions
    • Hands on training
    • Graphic designers
    • Purposeful feedback
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? Confident; less anxiety; inspired; excited. How do their comments compare with those of your learners? While I see the enthusiasm; it's not in the same context.  I want their faces to light up; not just because of the credential; but because they have mastered a new skill
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video? the contextualized learning process which engages these learners with reading and math skills that can be directly applied in their career field or at home in some cases.

  The role of the teachers in the program was to facilitate learning by providing an environment for inquiry and exploration using a combined approach of conventional and contextual teaching methods.

  The teachers appeared to be enthusiastic about teaching contextually due to the response that they were receiving from their students.

  Methods for delivering instruction were varied including auditory, visual and "hands on".

  The learners seemed actively engaged in their education.  They understood a clear connection to what they were learning and how it would materialize into improving their future careers.

  I attribute the attitudes of the learners to the enthusiasm of the teachers, the relativity of the curriculum to the student's goals and validity of contextualized learning in any setting. 

I am the director for Whitley County Adult ED and I am excited to begin the pilot and look forward to exploring new avenues to improve the success of the students we serve, especially those who are ready to begin their career or attend college.

Hello,  I am an instructor at Bullitt County Adult Education--and I just want to say that I am happy to be part of this pilot program and look forward to the meeting tomorrow.  --Marie Thompson.

Hi.  My name is Monica McGauley, and I am a Basic Education Instructor at Moraine Park Technical College.  I regularly participate in online programs and webinars to update myself with the changes that continually occur in technical education as well as basic education.  Currently, I am an adjunct instructor, and I am taking a Course and Curriculum Construction class as part of my WTCS certification.  During this class, I am expecting to design rubrics; however, the courses I teach have rubrics, and I use them to assess student progress and success daily.

While watching the two videos, it was very apparent that educators are very aware of the need to include contextualized teaching into their teaching strategies.  It is important for them to teach students the necessary basic education skills in a way that helps students stay motivated to learn.  Typically, this is in the language of topic in which they are interested.  The students in these videos were not saying, "Why do I have to learn this stuff?  I will never use it anyway."  The method of instruction (using their hands, using math as part of their core course work, etc.) shows the students not only why they need to learn it, but also how the information will be used.  The learners are excited about their programs as they are learning material they never thought they could.

Greetings, everyone. 

My name is a Kim and I am an instructor and instructional specialist of a contextualized education grant funded program. I am hoping to enhance my knowledge and understanding of contextualized education and use the skills I learn in this course to continue to develop curriculum that blends basic skills and content instruction. 


My name is Carolyn Hendrix and I teach adult education classes in Alabama.  I have worn many hats in my 23 years of teaching adults.  I have been involved in workplace education projects in which we developed training materials for business and industry.  These materials were developed in the context of the specific company and the specific job.

The majority of my professional development is through webinars and online courses.  I also read articles relating to adult education.

I have utilized rubrics in my classes to some extent, mostly for the constructed response prompts.

I look forward to learning about the bridge model for contextualized instruction.

The teachers were excited about the students’ response to the transformation of learning taking place in the contextualized classroom.

The delivery of the material was mostly hands on utilizing real work related examples, materials, tools and vocabulary.

The learners were excited about the contextualized learning, partly because it was different from their past experiences and partly because they were able to make the connection of the concepts being learned to the real world.

Although I try to make the connection to the real world in my GED classes, most of my younger students just don’t make the connection.  They don’t see how they are going to use some of the concepts in their everyday life.


I attribute the attitude of the learners in the video to the fact that it didn’t matter what level they were on academically or whether they could speak English, they were all learning and it made sense because it was in the context of the career path they had chosen.

I used one of the templates to create a rubric for an interview. It was extremely easy to register and use Rubistar.  I see myself using rubrics more often, especially since they are so easy to create.  I plan on trying to create my own in Rubistar without the template next time.

I am Kerry Mowdy, I teach Basic Computer Literacy, Microsoft Office, as well as some business  and employability skills to incarcerated individuals. I don't utilize rubrics per say, as my course of instruction is set up to track competencies. Being a technology instructor, I have developed a course of instruction that is immersive, with little paper and basically all tasks completed on the computer. I am always looking for new approaches to how I develop my courses and tracking achievement.

Like all CTE instructors I have come across, our goal is to successfully prepare our students for entry into a trade. This means helping the students who may be lacking in certain skill areas such as writing or mathematics. As these skills are necessary in all trades, it is almost second nature to integrate them into our curriculum. Delivery is a combination of visual, oral, and hands on. By incorporating this into the trade curriculum, the instructor provides something that is most often missing in a traditional academic setting which is how it relates to real life both on and off the job. The students gain a greater understanding because contextualized instruction answers the question, "Why do I need to know this stuff?" By providing a meaningful use for learning these various topics, it helps to provide self-motivation for the students to master these skills.

  • What is the role of the teachers in the program?
    • They are facilitators, support, motivators
  • How would you describe the teachers' attitudes toward teaching contextually?
    • They want to make it work for their students, enabling them to succeed; want to see improvement in quality, engagement
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction?
    • Hands-on, in context means of teaching math and language arts, variation in presentation; theoretical but also practical;
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies?
    • They seem to appreciate it, feel more confident; feel great about themselves
  • How do their comments compare with those of your learners?
    • Similar reactions: looking at college/career futures; optimistic about potential they have
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video?
    • They see the relevance of their learning to their futures/career pathways; more optimistic about what they can do with their futures

My name is Kim Litz.  I am the Math and Science Specialist in the Department of Transitional Studies at AB-Tech Community College. The role of the teachers in the program highlighted in the video was to facilitate learning and provide a better learning environment for students.  The teachers actually became more motivated teachers who wanted to improve their teaching methods to produce higher performing students.  They also tried to provide a better learning environment, encouraging student cohorts and incorporating real-world work problems and tools in lessons.  The learners progressed more quickly in the contextualized program than traditional educational programs.  They felt like they were more solid in their learning, learning skills faster and better.  They felt well-prepared for the workplace when they completed the program.  The learners and instructors were all more engaged.  They cared about the success of each other and the quality of their work.

Hello -

My name is Christine Vincent, Transition to College and Career Coordinator, for Vernon Regional Adult Based Education, a 14-town region, with our central office being located in Vernon, Connecticut.  My primary focus is working with students who are completing their GED, NEDP, and High School Credit Diploma Program.  Our region, like many others, continues to experience an influx of immigrants, who already have diplomas and post secondary credentials from their home country.  My goal in this course is to learn from the LINCS community and to discover how best to develop/build/create/ contextualized lessons that are aligned with the employment opportunities in our region,  while simultaneously aligning  those opportunities with our region's skilled, employment ready,  immigrant population. .

  • What is the role of the teachers in the program?  Facilitators
  • How would you describe the teachers’ attitudes toward teaching contextually? Open and willing to embrace the idea.
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction? A variety of instructor lead, information from textbooks, and mostly hands on using industry specific tools and examples
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies?   Positive - some students seemed to have surprised themselves with how engaged they became in their work.  One student who was surprised that he made the deans list realized that he had to continue with those expectations and keep moving forward - I liked his "aha" moment.  What was also interesting was the statement that one student made about other programs requiring him to take an ESL class first, before enrolling in the program and that this particular program embedded ESL into contextualized learning.  I reflected on our program practices to ascertain how we could better serve our ESL students who have identified a specific career pathway..  How do their comments compare with those of your learners? At this time, our program is currently reviewing the possibility of delivering contextualized learning opportunities.
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video? - Their own surprise and interest in learning and the instructors for providing a positive, hands on experience with immediate feedback.

I am the South Carolina Training Specialist for Adult Education's Region 4. I hope to assist our teachers, most of whom are part-time, feel comfortable presenting contextualized lessons that incorporate digital literacy and focus on CCR Standards.

I taught middle school for over 20 years and have been involved in adult education for about 20 years now.

The biggest challenge I see is in implementing these valuable concepts with part-time teachers who have little or no paid planning time.



  • What is the role of the teachers in the program?
  • It is that of a facilitator.  The teacher bridges all background knowledge to the new discovery of skills and knowledge in work related situations.  He facilitates application of new concepts, procedures, etc. into meaningful job realated situations. 
  • How would you describe the teachers’ attitudes toward teaching contextually? I would say they seem excited at the level and increase of student success.   They also seem to be discovering new potential in their own teaching.
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction? I believe the main method used is the concept of education through hands on situations.  Students are taken to situations where they actually have to immediatly apply what they are learning. There seems to be a directed use of the senses (visual, oral, audio and kinetic)
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? How do their comments compare with those of your learners? They seem excited at the immediate understanding of concepts an knowledge that seemed beyond their comprension scope before.  They actually look happy and satisfied at being able to understand the application of knowledge in their area of interest (job related).
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video? I think the enthusiasm is mainly attributed to the fact that they can actually make a direct connection between the newly acquired knowledge to the tasks they are to perform in their jobs.  Seeing the actual transformation in definite settings encourages them to continue.
  • What is the role of the teachers in the program? A: That of a Facilitator
  • How would you describe the teachers’ attitudes toward teaching contextually? A:  They seemed excited about the new approach.  Like the idea of active instruction.
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction?  A: A Hands-On approach.  Also incorporating other classes to mold with the content area.
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? How do their comments compare with those of your learners?  They seemed excited about the new learning approach.  Especially those who lack ESL skills.  It seemed as if the students were more motivated to learn in a more active environment vs the standard desk and book method.  My learners love when I incorporate activities in a lesson.  Gets their blood pumping and engages them easier.
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video?  the Hands-On approach.

Hi, I am Stephanie Plain Potter with developmental education in Alvin, Texas. The video demonstrates a common attitude of the instructors and students. Contextualization provides hands-on experiences that allows the students to internalize the skills and knowledge. 

I  love  concept of integrating the academic subjects with the and career skills.  I believe it motivates learners and teachers to work harder.  The teachers in the videos seem to feel it was a benefit. They seemed to understand their role as facilitators and motivators for their students.   It also seemed to make a stronger connection for the tactile learners.  They had the hands on component and were able to see a connection between their academic skills and their careers which seemed to help them through the difficult times.  It also bred success which allowed them to become  more committed to advance and opened the door for them to believe in themselves.  
Kelly Close


  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction?
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? How do their comments compare with those of your learners?
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video?

Once again an old idea has cycled back into vogue. In the late '80's and into the '90's there were integrated content - language products for Adult Education. They combined the teaching of English with basic employment and job readiness skills, and skills for daily living.

Contextualized Instruction has many similarities.

This looks like another example of the "re-cycling" of educational methods, concepts, theories, etc.  It's a forward moving spiral, not a circle, as I see it.

One advantage of this perspective, is that it encourages looking back and  finding teaching - learning materials that are already on the shelf, which supports quickly starting a viable class or program. 

Revising an existing corpus, instead of "re-inventing the wheel" can be highly efficient and effective. 

How many of you have used this revision approach?

Doesn't work every time, but it's amazing how often it does.

Hello - I'm Ann Chemmanoor. Have been an ESL instructor for several years, and thoroughly enjoy it! The videos were very uplifting. The teachers' attitudes to contextual teaching is obviously one of excitement and eagerness. Their deep desire to improve the 'quality of students', and to 'connect' with learners, is so clear. There is a change in the perception of the role of instructors, with the end goal of producing results in a student's life, not just enhancing his/her education.   

This is Ann Chemmanoor. The videos show such positive student reactions - they appear satisfied and engaged! Enthusiastic words - 'I Can" / 'learn lot better' /  learning 'faster' seem to fill the air. What hit me is the feeling of HOPE,  that they 'can move forward', and future goals seem so much more tangible.

This video reinforces my belief  - Teaching is one of the noblest professions of all!!  

Hi!  I'm Thomas Knoll, retired after 23 years of teaching accounting at DeVry University.  Back in the work force now on a part time basis I teach for El Centro Community College in the jail education program at the Dallas County Jail.  Mostly the classes have been successful, students cooperative and capable.  Now I'm teaching a lower level math class and my students are more challenging to work with.  They have had many negative academic experiences and are easily discouraged.  I'm wanting to find ways to help them see progress, even in small steps.  I hope to find ways to structure lessons to draw them into the topic even when they don't seem to accept the relevance to them. 


Hi Thomas,

Helping students to draw relevance in their instruction. I second the comment about joining the Math and Numeracy Groups. I also want to share with you a few resources in the LINCS Resource Collection. I hope you find these resources helpful. (I like connecting basic numeracy to money as this is a very relevant topic.)


Kathy Tracey

I just tried the "Teaching Participants About Cash Flow" link you provided, but it didn't get me to a lesson.  Neither did the How to Choose a Financial Education Curriculum.  The page that opens has a "View Resource" button so I tried that, but only got to a search page.  When I searched on the key words of Cash Flow, I got nothing like a lesson.  I'm confused and don't know what these are supposed to be providing.  Am I that blind?


I have not used rubrics much, since I think of them only for topics that will receive a grade. However, I can see the value after reading the rubric in the course material. We are just beginning a module on financial literacy, and I would like to incorporate rubrics. My course activities will begin with wants versus needs, keeping track of spending, short term versus long term financial goals, comparing costs, value versus cost, use of credit, and finally they will create a budget. It will be easy to incorporate math into these activities.

Contextual Model

  • What is the role of the teachers in the program? To facilitate and guide the student on a path that enables them to become proficient in both occupational and academic/basic skills.
  • How would you describe the teachers' attitudes toward teaching contextually? The teachers appear to be very motivated and involved with their students- They want to design and implement lessons that actively engage and meet their student’s needs and the specific career pathways.
  • What methods are used to deliver the instruction? Math and English are taught to students within the CTE context setting. The instructors integrated and embedded the Math and English Language Arts skills within the specific career pathways.
  • How would you describe the reactions of the learners to contextual teaching methods and strategies? How do their comments compare with those of your learners? These learners were in total amazement at how much they could learn in this hands- on setting. Learning in classrooms connected to the community and specific career pathways that focused on workplace relevant activities gave the students immediate positive reinforcement which in turn motivated the students to go above and beyond their own expectations. My students are engaged and motivated but I need to work on providing more direct pathways instruction.
  • To what do you attribute the attitudes of learners in the video? Their success and positive outcomes supported by the instructors, peers, and community provides continued incentive to meet their goals.

The role of the teacher is to provide instructional content in a career pathway that relates to the learner.  The teachers appear engaged and positive about this type of learning.  Methods include relating all learning to careers, where students use career-related resources such as formulas, relevant written resources,and hands-on activities to improve skills.  Students' comments were positive as well, feeling confident, motivated, and accomplished.

The teachers' role is to give learners the appropriate subject matter within the context of an appropriate career field, and to do it in such a way that the learners are engaged, and eager to move forward.  Various methods were used to incorporate textbook learning with hands on learning.  Once the students could see a real life application of what they were learning, they found they enjoyed learning.  Most said that traditional instruction didn't seem useful until they were able to see the skill applied to a real life work experience.  Even their reading was professional publications related to their chosen field.  They all seemed very positive about their learning environment and the practicality of the subject matter.

This information is all new to me - being the sole instructor for the programs offered makes it very challenging.  I can see how teaching this way is more effective than the standard way of teaching that I trained for. I am enjoying the class and will do more research to plan at least a few lessons in the manner presented.  We are not attached to another school or work place so that may be a challenge I will face.

Hi, Nancy -

Thanks for sharing your reflection.  Your situation sounds challenging without partners to connect instruction to context, but not impossible.  Have you surveyed your learners to find out what kinds of work they do outside of class?  If not, it might be a good place to start.  Remember that you can also try connecting to other programs here through the LINCS Community, who may have learners from the same career fields. 

Keep us posted, and don't be afraid to ask for help!


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

My name is Leecy Wise. As a college ESL and Basic Skills instructor for many years, I was totally converted to contextualized instruction, which we called content-based ESL or ABE instruction at the time.    We have long known from theories and research on how adults learn that adults must be engaged through areas of their experience and/or interests. We know from later research, that acceleration is an excellent tool for retaining adult students. Well designed integrated and accelerated programs, such as those reviewed in this course, integrate academic instruction into workplace skills acquisition in seamless ways that keep students interested and persistent.    I designed a project in Colorado that successfully contextualized instruction for future health workers. It was called STEM Prep in Health. In that project, students go though 16 lab stations, two for each principle of physics area: mechanical (skeletal), fluid (blood pressure), thermal (body temperature) and electrical (nervous system). Except of the labs themselves, all content is online, where students complete reading, writing and match activities related to what they did in the lab. A lab assistant is available to readily help students complete lab assignments and online modules as needed. That project is now a requirement for CNA's to complete their coursework in an Adult Ed program. Leecy