Saturday, November 2, 2013

Authentic Learning

According to Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, an interesting white paper published by EDUCAUSE, we need to immerse our students in authentic learning activities because it is through this sort of learning that they will develop
  • The judgment to distinguish reliable from unreliable information
  • The patience to follow longer arguments
  • The synthetic ability to recognize relevant patterns in unfamiliar contexts
  • The flexibility to work across disciplinary and cultural boundaries to generate innovative solutions (p.2) 
If I am a writing teacher, then, my focus should not be what I want to teach my students about writing but how I can teach them to be writers.
While the article focuses on technology-based examples, it includes an interesting 10-point checklist that teachers can use to judge the authenticity of any learning component.
  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.”
  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.
  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.  (pp. 3 – 4)
Do any of those 10 checkpoints stand out to you with respect to an assignment that has worked well in your class? Please share a brief description of that activity—what you do and how it works?  Let’s start an authentic Lincoln learning list!


  1. All of these are interesting activities and approaches to learning; but they seem to depend on a persuasive definition of "authentic" and employ statements with questionable truth-value such as these:

    "authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions."

    "The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving."

    "Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice."

    A persuasive definition, according to The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, is "a definition that seeks to influence the attitude of the hearer to something by redefining its name." A persuasive definition tries to change our attitudes, emotions or feelings by attaching a new concept to an old word. It is no substitute for argumentation.

    Safro Kwame

  2. Kwame, are you arguing, then, that we should not provide our students with activities that involve "diverse interpretations and competing solutions," "experimentation to real-world problem solving," or "real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice"?

    Or are you just saying that good teachers have always done that sort of thing and "authentic learning" is just a new buzzword?

  3. Neither!

    I'm merely asking for argumentation or evidence (for the claims made) and, further, suggesting that other things may be included in "authentic learning."

    Safro Kwame

  4. Everyone might well have different views of what makes for effective learning. More important than whether the 10 points the white paper listed are valid, I think, is the whole idea of what kinds of activity faculty believe contribute to effective learning. What do you, as a philosophy teacher, include in your courses to ensure "authentic" (or whatever label we want to give it) learning is taking place? What's an example of an activity/assignment that you use that you believe helps students learn to think critically? What are some of those "other things" you say might be included in authentic learning?

  5. Here is my dilemma. Unless we define authentic or effective learning, the question about what achieves it cannot be answered very well. If, on the other hand, we define authentic or effective learning in such a way that it automatically lists what achieves it, we merely beg the question. We seem to be putting the cart before the horse. Outcomes assessment, hopefully, will solve some of this problem when done right, regardless of what the instructor wants students to learn (whether one is aiming at authentic or inauthentic learning).