Functional Contextualism


Emphasizing relevance in formal educational settings

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … information
  • Knowing is … using information
  • Learner is … an information processor (individual)
  • Learning is … inputting (and associated computer-based notions, such as processing, storing, and retrieving)
  • Teaching is … transmission (of information)




Functional Contextualism is an instruction-focused variation of Cognitivism that emphasizes relevance. For instance, topics should be made as relevant as possible by linking to learners’ established understandings. Activities should be made relevant by using materials and equipment that learners will actually be using after completing their studies. Assessment should be relevant to the particular learners and their particular situations.


Functional Contextualism was originally developed for adult technical and literacy training, and that narrow focus might help to explain its instrumental emphases. Proponents seem to be entirely unaware of the perspectives roots in Brain-as-Computer Discourses.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Tom Sticht

Status as a Theory of Learning

Functional Contextualism is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Functional Contextualism is a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Functional Contextualism meets none of our criteria of a scientific theory.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Functional Contextualism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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