Ælfric was educated in the Benedictine Old Minster at Winchester under Saint Æthelwold, who was bishop there from 963 to 984. Æthelwold had carried on the tradition of Dunstan in his government of the abbey of Abingdon, and at Winchester he continued his strenuous support for the English Benedictine Reform. He seems to have actually taken part in the teaching activities of the abbey.
Ælfric no doubt gained some reputation as a scholar at Winchester, for when, in 987, the abbey of Cerne (Cerne Abbas in Dorset) was finished, he was sent by Bishop Ælfheah (Alphege), Æthelwold's successor, at the request of the chief benefactor of the abbey, the ealdorman Æthelmær the Stout, to teach the Benedictine monks there. This date (987) is one of only two certain dates we have for Ælfric, who was then in priest's orders. Æthelmaer and his father Æthelweard were both enlightened patrons of learning, and became Ælfric's faithful friends.
It was at Cerne, and partly at the desire, it appears, of Æthelweard, that he planned the two series of his English homilies (edited by Benjamin Thorpe, 1844–1846, for the Ælfric Society and more recently by Malcolm Godden and Peter Clemoes for the Early English Text Society), compiled from the Christian fathers, and dedicated to Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury (990–994). The Latin preface to the first series enumerates some of Ælfric's authorities, the chief of whom was Gregory the Great, but the short list there given by no means exhausts the authors whom he consulted. In the preface to the first volume he regrets that except for Alfred's translations, Englishmen had no means of learning the true doctrine as expounded by the Latin fathers. John Earle (Anglo-Saxon Literature, 1884) thinks he aimed at correcting the apocryphal, and to modern ideas superstitious, teaching of the earlier Blickling Homilies.
The first series of forty homilies is devoted to plain and direct exposition of the chief events of the Christian year; the second deals more fully with church doctrine and history. Ælfric's teaching on the Eucharist in the Canons and in the Sermo de sacrificio in die pascae (ibid. ii.262 seq.) was appealed to by the Protestant Reformation writers as a proof that the early English church did not hold the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation.
After the two series of homilies, he wrote three works to help students learn Latin, the Grammar, the Glossary and the Colloquy. In his Grammar, he translated the Latin grammar into English, creating what is considered the first vernacular Latin grammar in medieval Europe. In his glossary the words are not in alphabetical order, but grouped by topics. Finally, his Colloquy was intended to help students to learn how to speak Latin through a conversation manual. It is safe to assume that the original draft of this, afterwards maybe enlarged by his pupil and copyist, Ælfric Bata, was by Ælfric, and represents what his own scholar days were like.