the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from
his inability to utilize the experience he gets outside while on
the other hand he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning
in school. That is the isolation of the school--its isolation from
Introduction and Background
to educational psychologist Howard Gardner, many of today’s students
do not actually understand what they learn. For many students,
education has become nothing more than drill and response; there is
no relevance for the materials the students are expected to learn (Gardner,
1991). As a result, teachers are accustomed to students inquiring,
“Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use this?”
and other psychologists believe that the learner must be active to be
engaged in real learning (Piaget, 1954, 1974). Learning becomes
active when students are able to connect new knowledge with their prior
understanding. Constructivists take this notion a bit further
stating that a meaningful context that brings the real world into the
classroom learning environment is key to promoting learning (Brown,
Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Learning is a process of interacting
with the outside world, and continually reanalyzing and reinterpreting
new information and its relation to the real world (Brown et al., 1989;
Lave & Wenger, 1991). Traditional learning situations in which
students are passive recipients of knowledge are inconsistent with the
learning situations of real-life (Lave, 1988). In order to make
student learning relevant to real life experiences, learning environments
must be authentic.
learning is a pedagogical approach that allows students to explore,
discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts
that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the
learner (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999). The term
authentic is defined as genuine, true, and real (Webster's Revised
Unabridged Dictionary, 1998). If learning is
authentic, then students should be engaged in genuine learning problems
that foster the opportunity for them to make direct connections between
the new material that is being learned and their prior knowledge.
These kinds of experiences will increase student motivation. In
fact, an “absence of meaning breeds low engagement in schoolwork and
inhibits [learning] transfer” (Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995).
Students must be able to realize that their achievements stretch beyond
the walls of the classroom. They bring to the classroom experiences,
knowledge, beliefs, and curiosities and authentic learning provides
a means of bridging those elements with classroom learning. Students
no longer simply learn rote facts in abstract or artificial situations,
but they experience and use information in ways that are grounded in
reality. The true power of authentic learning is the ability to
actively involve students and touch their intrinsic motivation (Mehlinger,
will take on a much different form than traditional methods of teaching.
The literature suggests that authentic learning has several key characteristics.
- Learning is centered
on authentic tasks that are of interest to the learners.
- Students are
engaged in exploration and inquiry.
- Learning, most
often, is interdisciplinary.
- Learning is closely
connected to the world beyond the walls of the classroom.
- Students become
engaged in complex tasks and higher-order thinking skills, such as
analyzing, synthesizing, designing, manipulating and evaluating information.
- Students produce
a product that can be shared with an audience outside the classroom.
- Learning is student
driven with teachers, parents, and outside experts all assisting/coaching
in the learning process.
- Learners employ
- Students have
opportunities for social discourse.
- Ample resources
are available. (Donovan et al., 1999; Newman & Associates,
1996; Newmann et al., 1995; Nolan & Francis, 1992).
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) states that authentic
tasks often “involve multiple disciplines…bear a strong resemblance
to tasks performed in non-school settings and require students to apply
a broad range of knowledge and skills…[and] often, fill a genuine need
for the students and result in a tangible end product” (Authentic
Examples of student learning in a traditional classroom might involve students
reading a textbook and answering a few questions related to the lesson
content. Perhaps in a mathematics class students would be solving
problems in a workbook. However, if students were engaged in an
authentic lesson related to solving the city’s problems with air pollution
the classroom environment probably would look quite a bit different.
Students could work in groups and divide up the various tasks that need
to be accomplished to solve this real-world issue. Perhaps you
would find a group of students looking through newspapers to gather
data related to the local weather, while another group searched the
Internet for information about air pollution, as other students collected
data about the city’s population. These students would simultaneously
be engaged in science, mathematics, and reading. They would also
be utilizing their technical skills and search skills as well as exercising
their skills in social communication.
Anatomy of a
us take a look at an instructional project that exemplifies all the
characteristics of an authentic learning activity. The information
discussed in this section refers to a fictional authentic learning project
that can be accessed at http://www.arches.uga.edu/~cmims/panda.
Please note, that authentic learning is a fluid process. This
paper reports the characteristics of authentic instruction in this specific
example by segmenting the students’ activities into “phases” and discussing
traits that are exemplified within each phase. In practice, all
of these attributes are present throughout the authentic learning experience.
This activity involves middle-school students that are enrolled in an
introductory technology class. Some of the key technological skills
developed are related to word processing, hypermedia, graphics, designing
and building websites, digital technologies, the Internet, file transfer,
data organization and manipulation, and basic design principles. The
primary aim, though, is to help students develop the ability to apply
these technological skills in areas such as learning, work and recreation
by weaving them into the learning process in their classroom instruction.
Scenario: In this hypothetical activity, the teacher
has been approached by Zoo Atlanta requesting the students’ assistance
in a local advertising campaign. The first goal of this campaign
is to educate the community about Giant Pandas and their struggle to
continue to exist as a species. Secondly, the zoo hopes to increase
park visitation from the Athens area by publicizing their Georgia Panda
Project and creating interest that will draw people to the zoo.
Phase I – Engagement & Inquiry: After hearing about
this opportunity, the students are excited and immediately become enthralled
with the project. Initially, the students engage in lengthy discussions
as they map out the details of their new advertising campaign.
They begin by first becoming more knowledgeable about Giant Pandas.
They do this by breaking off into small work groups and using a variety
of classroom resources (reference books, CD-ROMs, newspapers and magazines),
quality Internet resources and materials found in the university’s library.
In addition, some students contact experts on Giant Pandas (by phone,
email, and in person) and acquire first-hand knowledge related to pandas.
The culmination of this phase is an informal meeting/discussion in which
all the groups report their findings to the entire class. The
result is an increased understanding and knowledge about these endangered
bears for everyone, including the teacher who is only serving a support
The Take Away: There are four primary characteristics of
authentic learning exemplified in the above description. First,
it is clear that the students in this classroom are actively engaged
in a genuine experience that is of interest to them. They become
so intrigued and motivated with this project that they inquire about
pandas of their own initiative; another attribute of authentic learning.
While gathering and sharing research, they learn about the scientific
classification of Giant Pandas, what pandas eat, information about panda
reproduction and their life span, and much more science related content.
They are immersed in researching, discussing and reading and writing
about information related to these bears; all important language arts
skills. The students become involved with mathematics as they
convert all the metric measurements (Giant Pandas are native only to
China), and learning about the geographic region that is home to pandas
incorporates both geography and science. This well demonstrates
the feature that authentic environments are interdisciplinary.
During this time, students did not view the research and information
collection as an assignment where the goal was to memorize a set of
basic facts. Instead, the students viewed the research and information
as a vehicle to dealing with a much larger, upcoming task – the advertising
campaign. The campaign has provided the students with a real-world
project and opened the walls of their classroom. This tie to the
outside world is a key feature of authentic learning.
the purposes of this particular course’s aims, the students are using
technology in a variety of meaningful ways. They are gaining experience
using CD-ROMs, searching for resources online and searching through
the library’s electronic database. Once the students find information
they must first decide whether it is credible and appropriate to their
goals. These judgment skills are important in today’s information
society as they try to ascertain quality resources for their own personal,
educational and professional use as well as acquiring resources that
can be shared with their classmates. Once useful information is
found, the students must organize it in some way. Some students
will choose to do this using word processing, email, spreadsheets, or
a database. All of these learning opportunities with the technology
will “emerge” and are priceless as they will be driven by a genuine
need for the students as they march towards their goal.