Teaching with Applied Academics

Traditionally schools in the United States have had two distinct tracks that they would guide students into, either "academic" or "vocational".[1] Applied academics is the bridge between these two tracks, and potentially can lead to the merger of the two.

Applied Academics is an approach to learning and teaching that focuses on how academic subjects (communications, mathematics, science, and basic literacy) can apply to the real world.[2] Further, applied academics can be viewed as theoretical knowledge supporting practical applications. [3][4]

The purpose of this textbook is to help teachers implement applied academic techniques into their curricula. This textbook will attempt to use its own advice as much as possible, and teach both the "Why" and the "How" of applied academics and have the reader apply what they learn. Because of this, it is very important that the exercises given in the book are done, as they are far more important than the reading. As one teacher has pointed out "If I could simply learn by reading, I would be a great golfer!" [5]

This textbook is linked to a Wikiversity project by the same name, and students may document their completion of exercises there.

Why Should You Teach Using Applied Academics?


Most teachers are either teaching a traditional academic subject or a vocational subject. The view of the applied academics philosophy is that we should all be teaching both. But coming to this conclusion may require convincing for either type of teacher.

Why Should Vocational Classes Teach Applied Academics?


In today's global labor marketplace, workers who wish to earn higher wages must be able to understand more than just how to do a task, they must understand why they are doing the task, and how to improve the process of doing a task.[1]

Further, for U.S. vocational classes, the reauthorization of the U.S. Carl Perkins Act has placed an increased emphasis on academics for career and technical education students.[6] And has begun to require academics to be placed within career and technical education classes.

There is a common saying: "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish he eats for life". This shows the first step in someones intellectual progress, from simply being at the whim of the universe to knowing how to do something on their own. But simply teaching a person how to do something is only the first level. If the person can understand why things occur, such as why certain fish appear in certain locations, or why a boat floats, and learns how to apply this extra knowledge, that man in the saying not only could eat when the fishing was good, but could go out to sea and bring back fish to sell. And when the fish start to become scarce, he might recognize that the population of fish may be dying out due to overfishing. Without having good mental models of what is occurring while fishing the man can not adapt, and is still at the whim of the universe.

This analogy gains a lot of traction in today's world. Workers are not only competing in the local labor market, they are competing in the global labor market. Those who will succeed are those who have a deeper understanding of not just how to do something, but why they are doing it, and most importantly how they can apply this knowledge creatively to new situations.

Why Should Traditional Academic Classes Teach Applied Academics?


Many academics and academic institutions believe that there is a distinction between learning to make a living and building the foundation for a life.[7] and some go so far as to regard vocational training as the training for slaves not free humans.[8]

These views seem to be underpinned by the assumption that a person can not have both a liberal education (traditional academics) and a vocational one. The applied academic philosophy takes the view that vocational and traditional academics will enhance each other. And modern vocational education philosophies are being built around the notion that workers need advanced critical thinking skills to be competitive, which in fact can be very compatible with traditional academics.

This has been proven by research into the cognitive sciences which has shown that people learn best when they combine theory with application. Because although "learning to know," "learning to do," and their "application" are often separated, there is no effective learning or understanding of one kind without the other two. Most school learning is symbol-based. When symbolic activities become detached from meaningful context, school learning becomes a matter of learning rules and saying or writing things according to the rules. Outside school, actions are intimately connected with things and events. When people are engaged with things and situations that make sense, they do not forget what their calculations or what their reasonings are about. Their mental activities make sense in terms of immediate effects, and their actions are grounded in the logic of immediate situations.[1]

Further, a recent study about why students drop out of high school found that 81% of the dropouts said there should be more opportunities for real-world learning.[9]

Why should art teachers use applied academics?


More Reasons to Teach with Applied Academics


Another way of viewing using applied academics, is that students get "2 for the price of 1". Since cognitive science has shown that people learn better by seeing both the theory and application, students can get the benefit of both, and because they are learning quicker and better, get them within approximately the same period of time as each would be taught alone. Hence it would take nearly half the time to teach two complimentary topics together, than it would be to teach them separate.

In some instances, it might even be possible to teach 3 subjects at the same time and have each compliment the others. For instance, a class could teach pre-algebra to help make business decisions and use a spreadsheet program to do the calculations. Or a student could learn how to use a word processing program to create resumes and cover letters, and learn English at the same time.



To be successful at teaching with applied academics, it is important to have "buy-in" to the concept. = If you don't truly believe that it is important to incorporate the applied academic concept throughout your curriculum, then you will not be as successful at doing it.

Go to the Wikiversity Teaching with Applied Academics page for this exercise, and write out your own thoughts about why you agree or disagree with the applied academics philosophy, or reply back to someone else. Your intention with any replies should be constructive dialogue that helps all parties learn in the end, even if this dialogue is in the form of disagreements.

How to Teach with Applied Academics


The underpinning of Applied Academics is to always link theory and practice. Whether this be with traditional academics, or with other theories.

For Vocational & Skills Based Classes


For classes that teach a lot of application, such as vocational classes, the key to teaching with applied academics is to attempt to always be able to answer the question of "Why does it work this way" whenever students learn how to do an activity. The key is that students should gain a larger model in their minds than just the task at hand, so that they can apply this mental model to new situations.

Some examples of teaching theory along with application:

  • An American construction class learns that most load-bearing walls have stud boards at every 16 inches. They should learn that this is done so that the wall is up to code, that it is known that this width will generally support the roof, and that by following standards it makes it easier for everyone involved in the project. These three pieces of theory all support the task and facts at hand, and can be applied to situations beyond the immediate one. Further the class may learn that many constructions projects are moving to using studs every 24 inches because they use significantly less lumber, provide more opportunity for insulation, and allow for a faster build time. [10]
  • A job-skills class is learning about how much they can earn in a variety of career choices. Beyond the current job market data, they should learn that the job market is governed by the economic principle of supply and demand in labor markets. From this they should learn that those careers that are needed by the most number of businesses, but have the least number of qualified applicants will in general earn the most money.
  • A computer class is learning about buying a computer, during the class they are told that they should buy what they need for their current needs and buy more later. This should be supported with "Moore's Law" that shows computers double in capability nearly every year and a half, but are offered for approximately the same price.
  • A Business English class is learning that it is OK to have one space after a period (.) when typing a business letter when using a computer, but must have two spaces when using a typewriter. The class should learn that computers can have variable-width typefaces, where each character can be a different width, and that typewriters only have monospaced typefaces which has the same width for any character. Further, the class should learn that it is most important to know about the audience who will be reading the document, and different companies have different standards, and those should be followed.[11]

Supporting actions with theory will require the teacher to often think deeper about a subject, so that they can help the students to think deeper.

One of the problems that can arise is that there are often contradictory theories. In this case, usually only one of the theories supports the action or fact that is being taught, and therefore that would be the theory that should be taught. But if the theories are very controversial or contentious then teachers should explain the other theories and actions as well, even if they do not subscribe to them.

Using theory to support practice does not mean that the teacher delves into all the nuances of the theory, but should be able to explain it at a level that can directly relate to the practice being taught.

For Traditional Academic Classes


Traditional Academic classes can teach using applied academics by always being able to give an accurate example of where the subject being taught can apply to the real world. Further, it is best if students are given the opportunity to participate in practicing where the subject is used in the real world.

For example:

  • In mathematics, when students are taught exponents, they should learn how this can be applied to knowing how difficult it is to break a computer password. For instance a password that consists of 8 lower case letters will have 26^8 or 208,827,064,576 possible combinations.
  • In English, students should see how good communication skills can assist them in a job, and how not having good English skills could be detrimental to their careers.
  • In history, students should see how events of the past may influence them today or how they are similar to events today.

When giving real life examples, it is best if the students can actually participate in them, and the more relevant they are to the students "world", or future world, the better. Examples that in and of themselves are theoretical or the students can not see the relevance in will do little good.

Further, many traditional academic courses should also explain the theory behind why things occur. For instance, in English, it is important for students to always understand that the audience they are writing for affects the way that they write. Also, they should understand that language is built upon consensual agreement about the rules of the language.

The Public Pupil Pizza Project is being created to help teach several traditional academic subjects, while simultaneously teaching the technology tools to help with these subjects, and showing how the subjects can apply to running a pizzeria.



If you teach vocational or skills based courses, then:

1. Identify one theory that you think would be relevant to something you are teaching, and include it in your lesson.

2. Every time you teach a topic, ask yourself "Why does it work this way?", and make sure you can answer that question. Keep some quick notes (journal) of the topics and the theory that support them. If you teach something and can not answer the question "Why does it work this way?", do some research to find the answer.

If you teach traditional academic courses, then:

1. Identify one topic that you can teach the class how to apply to the real world, preferably in a hands on method.

2. Every time you teach a topic, ask yourself "How does this apply to the real world?", and make sure you can accurately answer this question. Keep some quick notes (journal) of the topics and the application to the real world. If you teach something and can not answer the question "How does this apply to the real world?" do some research to find the answer.

You can document what you have done with these, by going to the journal section of the Wikiversity class, and writing what you taught and the piece of theory that supports what you taught. By sharing this information on Wikiversity you will not only help yourself, you will also be benefiting other instructors.

Where can Applied Academics be Used


One of the main points of applied academics is that it bridges subjects that are often believed to be disparate. And in fact, applied academics shows that no piece of human knowledge is completely independent from other pieces of knowledge.

But given that most school systems currently have distinct disciplines that they teach, here is a look at some examples of how these traditional subjects can start to bridge with applied academics.

Career and Technical Education (Vocational Education)


Traditional Academics


The Arts




The concept of Applied Academics is relatively simple to understand: Always connect theory with practical examples and practice, and vice versa.

But understanding the concept doesn't mean you have truly learned it, they must be implemented. That is why the exercises are critical to do. Even though they only occupy a minor amount of space in this book, completing them should literally take your whole teaching career.


  1. a b c Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (1990). Identifying and Describing The Skills Required by Work (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-18. Invalid <ref> tag; name "SCANS" defined multiple times with different content
  2. "Glossary". Hocking College Academic Affairs Department. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  3. "Frequently Asked Questions about Applied Academics". Center for Applied Academics. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  4. Walker, Jacob. "Systems and Tools Educational Model". Wikimedia. Retrieved 2007-05-02. {{cite web}}: Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  5. Wessels, Walter J. (June 1, 1997). Microeconomics the Easy Way. Barron's Educational Series.
  6. "Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  7. "CSUS Catalog - General Education". California State University Sacramento. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  8. Adler, Mortimer J. "General Education vs. Vocational Education". Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  9. Bridgeland, DiIulio, Morison (March 2006). "The Silent Epidemic - Perspectives of High School Dropouts" (PDF). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved 5/21/2007. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. "OVE and Stack Framing". HGTV. Retrieved 5/21/2007. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. "Spacing after full stop". WikiMedia. Retrieved 5/21/2007. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)