Making learning authentic

3 Dec

I can remember many times in high school (and even know in University) thinking “when am I ever going to use this?” or “how does this relate to real life?” These are two burning questions from students that every teacher will be faced with and more importantly, two questions that teachers need to be prepared to answer.  Students need to see the relevance and usefulness of the things they are doing in class beyond the grades, and the classroom walls.  As teachers we can do this by creating authentic learning experiences for our students.

But how do we make learning authentic?  Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview by Marilyn Lombardi,  lists 10 ways in which we can design our lessons, activities and projects to create an authentic learning environment for our students:

1. Real-world relevance: Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic—and highly social—context mimicking “the ordinary practices of the [disciplinary] culture.”7
2. Ill-defined problem: Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.
3. Sustained investigation: Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
4. Multiple sources and perspectives: Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.
5. Collaboration: Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.
6. Reflection (metacognition): Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.
7. Interdisciplinary perspective: Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.
8. Integrated assessment: Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes. 3
Authentic Learning for the 21st Century
9. Polished products: Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.
10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes: Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.


I strongly believe that as teachers we need to move away from teaching students content, to using content as the vehicle to develop the mind. We need to make learning authentic through the development of vital life skills for our students like reasoning, problem solving, decision-making and critical thinking to name a few. We need to relate the importance of these skills not only to a student’s life in the future, but to things that are happening in their lives right now. If we are not using content to build upon everyday skills and prepare students for “the real world” then why are we teaching that content? I also feel it is important to reiterate to your students’ often how this content is useful to their everyday lives, and  help them to discover the connections and relevance that they may not realize is there.

Recently I created a video for one of my classes, playing off the idea of the 21st century students/teachers videos that I previously posted. We chose to promote business education courses to students by focusing on the relevance and practicality of the skills and knowledge obtained through business education courses in one’s daily life. “You Can Choose… Business Education“ showcases different situations that students could be facing now or at some point in their lives, and the possible negative outcomes from not being informed or educated on the topic. What we are trying to convey to students in this video is the authentic learning that is in business education courses, and the real-world applications and everyday skills learned.





One Response to “Making learning authentic”

  1. Charlie Roy December 5, 2010 at 3:52 am #

    Financial literacy is rather key. Some would argue there is a reason that it isn’t taught. Perhaps the powers at be prefer when people live beyond their needs and consume at an unsustainable rate. Follow this simple rule and you will build wealth and have a nice cushion for the future.

    On housing only spend 15% of your take home pay on a 15 year fixed mortgage

    Save 20% of every check.

    Give 5% at least to charity

    Learn to live on the other 60%

    If you can do this you’ll accumulate wealth. If you can’t you’ll live in constant fear and be a slave. If you follow these three simple rules you will be financially free very quickly and not be a wage slave.

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