Ways teachers can make learning relevant and meaningful is the topic of our blog post today!

My journey into the vast realm of educational literature began with my PhD in Educational Studies—a profound exploration that delved deep into the nuances of how we learn and the best ways to facilitate that process. Yet, it wasn’t just the academic rigor of my doctorate that illuminated these insights; my tenure as a teacher and my ongoing role as an educator provided the practical canvas on which theoretical knowledge met real-world application.

This confluence of research and firsthand experience has equipped me with a unique vantage point. It’s allowed me to discern not just what literature suggests but what truly works in the dynamic, ever-evolving environment of a classroom. In this post, drawing from both scholarly research and my personal experiences, I aim to share strategies that can make learning more relevant and meaningful for students.

10 Ways Teachers Can Make Learning Relevant and Meaningful

Making learning relevant and meaningful is one of the most effective ways to engage students and foster deep understanding. Here are some strategies, along with examples and supporting books:

1. Real-world Application

Real-world Application refers to the practice of connecting classroom content and skills to real-life scenarios and situations. The primary objective of this pedagogical approach is to make learning more relevant, engaging, and meaningful for students. By seeing how academic concepts apply outside the confines of textbooks and classrooms, students can better understand the importance and utility of what they are learning.

Such connections not only enhance retention and understanding but also prepare students for the complexities of the real world by equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge. Whether it’s applying mathematical principles to budgeting or understanding the physics behind everyday objects, real-world application fosters a deeper and more integrated learning experience.

Example: Instead of just teaching theoretical physics, an educator might organize a field trip to a local amusement park to understand the physics of roller coasters.

Book:The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters” by Emily Esfahani Smith

2. Project-based Learning (PBL)

Project-based Learning (PBL) is an instructional approach that centers on students actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. Instead of passive absorption of information, students in PBL environments are challenged to actively explore, investigate, and solve complex problems, often collaborating with peers.

The projects can span over several days to weeks and typically culminate in a final product, presentation, or performance. PBL allows for a deeper exploration of subjects, promoting critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills.

By simulating real-world scenarios or addressing genuine issues, PBL not only makes learning more relevant but also prepares students for the challenges of the modern world, equipping them with the ability to work collaboratively, think critically, and engage in lifelong learning.

Example: Instead of traditional book reports, students might be asked to start a small business, making decisions based on a novel’s characters and events.

Book: “Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning” by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, and Suzie Boss

3. Integrating Technology

Integrating Technology in education refers to the incorporation of digital tools, platforms, and resources into the teaching and learning process. This integration aims to enhance the learning experience, making it more engaging, interactive, and efficient. When technology is seamlessly woven into curricula, it can transform traditional teaching methods, enabling more personalized and differentiated instruction.

Students can access a wealth of information instantly, collaborate in real-time regardless of geographical barriers, and develop skills essential for the 21st century. Moreover, technology in the classroom allows for a variety of multimedia and interactive content, catering to diverse learning styles.

Example: Using virtual reality headsets to take virtual field trips or simulate historical events.

Book:The Digital Pencil: One-to-One Computing for Children” by by Jing Lei (Author, Editor), Paul F. Conway (Editor), Yong Zhao (Editor)

4. Connect with Local Community and Experts

Connect with local community and experts in education refers to bridging the gap between the classroom and the broader community[1] by incorporating the insights, experiences, and knowledge of local professionals and community members into the learning process. This strategy emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, grounded in real-world contexts.

By engaging with experts from various fields or collaborating on community projects, students gain a deeper understanding of the practical implications and applications of their studies. They also benefit from diverse perspectives, which enrich their learning experiences and cultivate a sense of civic responsibility.

Furthermore, connecting with local experts and the community provides opportunities for mentorship, networking, and authentic feedback, empowering students to see the relevance of their education and its impact on the world around them.

Example: Inviting a local veterinarian to speak when studying animal biology.

Book: “Community: The Structure of Belonging” by Peter Block

5. Cultural Relevance

Cultural relevance in education pertains to the practice of recognizing, honoring, and incorporating the diverse cultural backgrounds of students into the teaching and learning process[2]. This approach ensures that educational content is not only inclusive but also resonates with the experiences, values, and knowledge bases of all learners.

A culturally relevant pedagogy acknowledges the importance of students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. It aims to make the curriculum and classroom environment more reflective of the multicultural tapestry of today’s global society. By doing so, students from diverse backgrounds feel more seen, understood, and valued, leading to increased engagement and better educational outcomes.

Culturally responsive pedagogy also helps students develop a broader and more empathetic understanding of the world, cultivating mutual respect and appreciation for varied cultural perspectives.

Example: Teaching literature that reflects the diverse backgrounds of students in the classroom.

Book:Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice” by Geneva Gay

6. Interdisciplinary Approaches

Interdisciplinary approaches in education involve blending knowledge and skills from multiple academic disciplines to provide a more comprehensive, holistic, and interconnected understanding of a topic or problem[3]. Instead of compartmentalizing subjects into isolated silos, interdisciplinary teaching seeks to show students how different areas of study can interrelate and converge.

For example, a lesson on climate change might incorporate elements from biology (studying its effects on ecosystems), geography (understanding affected regions), political science (analyzing policy implications), and economics (exploring the impact on global markets). This method not only enriches the learning experience but also mirrors the complex, interwoven nature of real-world challenges.

By seeing the bigger picture and understanding the multifaceted aspects of issues, students are better prepared to think critically, creatively, and collaboratively, essential skills for the interconnected world of the 21st century.

Example: Combining history lessons with art, by creating period-accurate artwork or crafts.

Book:Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation” by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

7. Personalize Learning

Personalized learning is an educational approach that tailors the teaching and learning process to the unique needs, strengths, interests, and backgrounds of individual students[4]. Instead of a one-size-fits-all methodology, personalized learning acknowledges that students vary in their pace, style, and comprehension of learning.

This method leverages technology, flexible classroom structures, and diverse instructional strategies to create a learning experience that resonates more closely with each student. For instance, while one student might grasp a concept best through visual aids, another might benefit more from hands-on activities.

Personalized learning may also allow students to set their learning goals, choose projects of interest, or even dictate the pace at which they progress through material. The ultimate objective is to empower students to take ownership of their learning, resulting in increased engagement, deeper comprehension, and better retention of knowledge.

Example: Allowing students to choose a topic they’re passionate about for a research project.

Book:The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness” by Todd Rose

8. Inquiry-based Learning

Inquiry-based Learning (IBL) is an active learning approach where students are driven by questions, hypotheses, and curiosities to seek out and construct new knowledge[5]. Instead of being passive recipients of information, students in IBL settings take on a more proactive role, exploring topics through questioning, research, and exploration.

The process often begins with a central question or problem posed by the teacher or even the students themselves. From there, learners engage in a process of research, reflection, and discussion, leading to deeper understanding and further questions. The cycle continues until students reach a resolution, create a project, or develop a theory.

Throughout the process, educators serve as facilitators, guiding students, providing resources, and scaffolding their learning. The emphasis in IBL is not just on the end result but on the journey of discovery, cultivating skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning. IBL fosters a natural love for learning, encouraging students to be inquisitive, reflective, and persistent in their pursuit of knowledge.

Example: Instead of providing answers, the teacher poses thoughtful questions and allows students to research and find answers.

Book: Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation” by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan L. Lytle

9. Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is an educational approach based on the principle that direct experience and participation in a learning activity lead to deeper understanding and retention[6]. It posits that knowledge acquisition is most effective when learners are actively involved in the learning process, rather than being mere passive recipients of information.

In experiential learning, students are immersed in hands-on activities or real-world scenarios where they can apply theoretical concepts, confront challenges, make decisions, and reflect on the outcomes. This cycle of doing and then reflecting enables learners to adjust and improve their understanding continuously.

For example, instead of just reading about biology, students might dissect a specimen, grow a garden, or engage in fieldwork. Similarly, business students might run a mock company to grasp management principles.

By actively engaging with the subject matter, students not only gain a deeper appreciation of the concepts but also develop problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. It’s a philosophy captured succinctly by Confucius when he said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Example: Organizing a garden project for biology lessons, where students learn about plant growth through firsthand experience.

Book: “Experience And Education” by John Dewey

10. Encourage Reflection

Encourage reflection in education involves prompting students to think critically about their learning experiences, the knowledge they’ve gained, and the skills they’ve developed[7]. Reflection is more than just recalling what happened; it’s about analyzing, evaluating, and drawing insights from those experiences.

By taking the time to ponder over what they’ve learned, students can identify their strengths, recognize areas for improvement, and connect new information to prior knowledge. This introspective process helps learners solidify their understanding and recognize the significance of their educational journey.

For instance, after completing a group project, students might be asked to reflect on their role in the team, the challenges faced, and how they overcame them. Through such reflective practices, learners become more aware of their learning processes, fostering self-regulation, metacognition, and a deeper appreciation for the value of their education. Reflection transforms passive learning experiences into active, meaningful insights, paving the way for lifelong learning and continuous personal growth.

Example: Having students keep learning journals where they jot down their thoughts, questions, and realizations about their studies.

Book:Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators” by Char Booth

Final thoughts

The journey of education is a vibrant and transformative experience, constantly adapting to the needs, interests, and potential of every student. The strategies explored in this post, from real-world applications to personalizing learning experiences, offer practical pathways for teachers to make education more relevant and engaging.

The convergence of research, theory, and actual classroom practice emphasizes that relevance is not merely a pedagogical buzzword; it’s a foundational principle that breathes life into learning. As teachers, we are bestowed with the incredible opportunity to shape minds and ignite passions. By intentionally connecting learning to the lives, cultures, and interests of our students, we create a classroom environment that resonates, inspires, and endures.


1. What is Service Learning or Community Engagement, Vanderbilt University

2. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, California Department of Education

3. Why Teach with an Interdisciplinary Approach?, Carleton University

4. A Step by Step Guide to Personalized Learning, By Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

5. What is Inquiry-Based Learning?, Queen’s University

6. Experiential Learning, Boston University

7. The Purpose of Reflection, Purdue University

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