Authentic Learning

Authentic learning is an approach to teaching and learning in which students work on realistic problems, participate in activities that solve real-life problems, or create products that have real-life purposes.

When learning activities are authentic, students see the significance of what they are learning because the tasks mirror real-life experiences - activities that personally relate to students and their world. Students explore, discover, discuss, and construct concepts that involve their world. They learn to think critically, analyze information, communicate ideas, reach logical conclusions, collaborate with others, and create multiple solutions. The true goal of authentic learning is to help students find relevance in their learning and to apply what they have learned in the world.

Basic Elements of Authentic Learning Activities

  1. Learning activities represent an issue that requires a personal frame of reference for the students.
    In other words, the issue involves an emotional or internal commitment on the part of the student, in addition to a cognitive interest. For example, when students in the Red River Valley study overland flooding, they can do so with a personal frame of reference.

  2. Issues in the learning activities involve things that relate to real life.
    In lieu of reading about an archaeological dig, a simulation of an archaeological dig raises the level of authentic learning. Software that simulates an archaeological site in Assyria, for example, allows students to virtually dig at the site, discover artifacts, send them to a laboratory for measuring and weighing, and develop hypotheses on the culture of the society that inhabited this site. To elevate this example to the highest degree of authentic learning would require that students actually dig at a site as archaeologists do and discover the artifacts for study and interpretation.

  3. Issues have social value beyond the school setting.
    Social value beyond the school means that students want to create new products or information that will change actions, attitudes, or beliefs on the part of a targeted audience. For example, reading texts and writing a report that a teacher assesses about television viewing habits in the United States is not authentic learning. But, when students gather, analyze and report on data about television-watching habits in their community, they are contributing information that is new and that causes people to think critically about these habits.

  4. Real issues are directed toward a real audience.
    Real audiences consist of persons who attend to information, events, services, or objects. A good way to understand the difference between a real and a contrived audience is to reflect on what some students did with the results of their oral history project. Their authentic audience consisted of members of a local historical society. A typical example of a contrived audience would be presenting their findings solely to their classmates.

Authentic Learning and Technology Integration. 

Technology gives the students access to authentic data. With the use of current technology, students are able to communicate and collaborate with experts and access data for experiments and study. The Internet allows virtual experiences when real world experiences are not possible. It also provides a means of communication with other students around the world. In addition, software applications provide students with a method for planning their search for artifacts, collecting their work, and presenting information.

Copyright 2002-2003 Teaching with Technology Initiative