In a recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review, an international group of educators called The New London Group put forth a "manifesto" for broadening the concept of literacy into the concept of "multiliteracies." They argued that in addition to the traditional view of literacy as reading and writing, we should consider general symbol use and representational media such as television, computer multimedia, graphic design, drawing, gesture, performance and so forth as forms of literacy. In their discussion they call for, among other things, the use of a pedagogy of functional context education called "situated practice," which is based upon the belief that "...human knowledge, when it is applicable to practice, is primarily situated in sociocultural settings and heavily contextualized in specific knowledge domains and practices."1p. 84
Earlier, in research to identify the skills needed and to set standards for successful transition from school into the world of work in the United States, the Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) also addressed the need for "contextualized" instruction in the schools:
As noted by both The New London Group and the SCANS, research in contemporary cognitive science provides an empirical base for functional context education, an approach to education in which the teaching of basic language, intellectual and cognitive skills and the subject matter of schools, including education and training programs for out of-school youth and adults, are integrated into the functional contexts that engage people in the world outside the schoolroom, including the world of work. From this perspective, both learning for and in the world of work is best accomplished following functional context principles.
Functional context education is based upon theoretical constructs and research from action research to develop more effective technical and literacy training programs for use in the world of work, from experimental studies of the effects of contextualizing instruction in the schools, and from laboratory and field research aimed at understanding human cognitive development and its use in school and non-school settings.
Adult Education Programs: Topic-Oriented vs. Performance-Oriented Learning.The functional context approach to workforce education and lifelong reaming aims to ensure that learners are able to apply what they learn in classrooms or reaming centers to parenting, citizenship, community and work tasks outside the classroom. Instead of this performance orientation, however, many adult basic education programs generally operate under a topic or subject matter orientation in which the goal is to acquire academic credentials, such as a high school diploma, not to perform well in social roles outside of class. For instance, in high school completion (GED) classes, the goal is to have learners learn enough about the "core" topics or subject matters of English, mathematics, science, history, and geography to pass the GED test. The concern is not with whether the reamer understands the subject matters well enough to apply them to the events of daily life.