According to Hull's (1993) definition of contextual learning, learning occurs only when learners connect information to their own frame of reference:
"According to contextual learning theory, learning occurs only when students (learners) process new information or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in their frame of reference (their own inner world of memory, experience, and response). This approach to learning and teaching assumes that the mind naturally seeks meaning in context--that is, in the environment where the person is located--and that it does so through searching for relationships that make sense and appear useful." (p. 41)
Karweit (1993) defines contextual learning as learning that is designed so that students can carry out activities and solve problems in a way that reflects the nature of such tasks in the real world. Research supports the effectiveness of learning in meaningful contexts (Carraher, Carraher & Schleimer, 1985; Lave, Smith & Butler, 1988).
Resnick (1987) points out that schools emphasize symbol manipulation and abstraction instead of the contextualized learning that is used in the world outside of school. She says the problem is that the symbols are detached from their real-world referents. Because they are decontextualized, they have no meaning for students.
For further information, refer to contextual learning (National School-to-Work Learning and Information Center, 1996a).