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Anchored learning

IN AN ANCHORED LEARNING environment, the activities are designed around a realistic situation -- or anchor -- in which there is a problem to be solved by the group. Originally developed by the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, this method encourages students to view knowledge as tools to be applied to new situations, rather than knowledge as facts to be learned. Curriculum materials are often technology based, and provide a positive effect on student achievement, including for students with special needs.

How does it work?

Anchored instruction requires putting the students in the context of a problem-based story. The students "play" an authentic role while investigating the problem and the developing situations. In this framework, the student is given the tools needed to solve the problem.


Research shows that ordinary classroom learning is very different from "natural" learning environments. Natural learning environments, like those in which parents help their child develop a language, are often characterized as "contextualized." The parent and child share a context, or a common frame of reference, in which learning takes place. Teachers in traditional learning environments often do not share a common context for instruction, and therefore students fail to see the knowledge they learn in school as a tool to solve problems in the "real world". Anchored Instruction is designed to bridge the gap between natural and school learning environments.

Traditional learning vs. anchored learning:

Traditional    Anchored
Lecture based   Technology based

Student is a passive listener  Student is active and involved

Facts are learned   Problems are solved

Creating your own Anchored Learning environment:

All data required to solve the problem should be embedded in the story line. The presentation should be as realistic as possible. Keep in mind that the ability to refer back to segments is a useful design consideration. Regular videotape would be inadequate for quick playback, while most multimedia formats can be replayed easily with the click of a button.

An anchored module can be provided as a high production value multimedia presentation or as a simple web page. On the web pages, audio, video, and graphics can help to promote realism. More complex anchored learning situations include a story that would change in accordance with the students inputs, giving them "control" over their end results.

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Donah Shine

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