Effective contextual learning through associative learning and case-study methods

Innovations in teaching several social sciences is quite possible through the associative learning method and through case-studies. The nitty-gritty of using these for enhancing the value of contextual learning is sought to be explained in this article.


An economics teacher of a leading autonomous college of the University of Madras, who had to compulsorily teach only through the online method for a very long time, thought of this innovation that he calls associative learning. That is, he would explain one concept and then ask the students to read an article or a textbook, on that topic. He would then ask the students to search for additional sources to understand the wider implications of the particular concept, as explained through solid research-based data. This was superbly done in the M.A. (Economics) program of the college. Since the college is autonomous, he was able to foster a climate of innovation.

There has been a specific request from the teacher and the college to not mention the name of the college, directly or indirectly. Hence, the name is not mentioned. It is one of the oldest colleges of Chennai metropolis.

The concept of associative learning was sought to be further reinforced when the college recently reopened after the State Government allowed the colleges to reopen. The students were asked to do all the homework and then make presentations. From the data provided, the following points of discussion emerge. They are: a) What is associative learning? b) How can it be combined with case-studies? c) What are the byproducts of this type of learning? d) What value-additions can happen? and e) Ensuring the continuity of the spirit of inquiry.

What is associative learning

As explained in the aforesaid introduction, the students were made to read the most recent book on "Demonetization and the Black Economy" by Prof. Arun Kumar.

They were given seven days time to fully read the book and the associated topic was inflation. The students were made to collect all the data about inflation. And then there was something more interesting. Five students who were holed up at cities and towns like Pollachi, Coimbatore, Salem, Tirunelveli and Madurai, when they did not attend the classes, were asked to interview at least ten wage earners and find out how inflation affected them. That is, Government servants, small traders, unorganized sector employees, bankers and so on. The students were asked to take this as the case-study and make the presentations.

Hence, demonetization was explained through a latest book and the associated concept was inflation. The wider context for understanding inflation was through actual interviews with the common man in so many places, and this became the case-studies as well. This concept is different from loop learning. This has been explained in an earlier article. How to effectively apply loop learning in social sciences

In associative learning, the learning is limited to one or two main concepts, whereas in loop learning, the learning is far wider and can extend to several other dimensions. Of course, associative learning can be further expanded to loop learning if the situation so demands and if the concepts are very wide concepts. Demonetization, for example, is a very wide concept and the world-wide experiences and the consequences of such experiences can indeed lead to loop learning.

How can it be combined with case studies

As just explained, the scope for doing so is rather unlimited. The student is made to compulsorily read one article and then also read about the associated concept in some detail. Obviously, the real world learning is fabulously possible. This can apply to other social sciences too. For example, one can talk about caste and then associate it with reservation policies. The next step is to go to the nearest Government department to collect data on how the reservation has actually worked and all other associated printed data on the subject. The scope is too wide in social sciences.

Case-studies can also enable the student to understand the various socioeconomic and political implications of every major decision and how they play out in the country. Furthermore, it is also quite possible to understand how it will impact various sections of the society, and the extent of the positive or negative impact, as the case may be.

What are the by-products of this type of learning The by-products are the extra compulsory reading and the opening up of minds on the need to collect additional data. One strand of data will lead to another significant observation. For example, when the sociology student interviews a contractual worker, he will be able to really get an inside view of his social condition and this will increase his practical knowledge as well.

What value additions can happen

Students of economics or sociology or public administration or even commerce need to have an insatiable desire for big field research. This research will obviously be centered around the need to keep on innovating in terms of studying any concept with a research mind and not an academic mind. For example, development economics is now sought to be taught through extensive field work and results of various Government and private sector interventions and not through mere theory. Associative learning and the related learning through case-studies can only take this learning forward and this is a big value addition.

Ensuring the spirit of inquiry

One can even make commercial use of data obtained through serious filed work. For example, there are new industrial developments at several places. The demand for quality private schools, for example, will increase exponentially. It is quite possible to make a good impact and actually earn commercial revenue from leading builders, who will obviously be looking for new revenue opportunities. The teachers need to keep on bouncing new ideas for associative learning and looking for various sources to understand what is going on in the external world. Nothing happens in a vacuum. It happens in a wider context. Understanding all the wider ramifications of such contexts is extremely vital and hence teachers should keep on looking for new associative learning opportunities and possibilities.


The concept of associative learning and combining that with case-studies has been sought to be explained in this article, in some detail; It is hoped that with the new developments in the filed of information technology, there will be far better opportunities to expand the scope of such learning.


Author: Venkiteswaran30 Sep 2022 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

One of the deficiencies in the present day students and even teachers is the lack and complete neglect of associative learning and contextual learning.

Associated learning is facilitated by good libraries in the educational institutions. Only very few students make some extra reading even on the prescribed syllabus. Teachers do no take efforts to encourage extra reading and thus associative learning is not happening in present day educational set up.

Good teachers give some extra points on some related topics, while teaching or lecturing. Attentive students should note down these hints and points and then search for extra reading materials. That 'extra' will always come to help the students in their exams, further studies and career interviews.

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