Toolkit for Teachers - Characteristics of Authentic Learning

I remember, wondering numerous times in school, “Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use this?” regarding a certain subject or topic, which I found completely useless. However, traditional education approach has been such, which expects a student

 to sit at a desk, take notes and regurgitate curriculum content. In general, students learn to sit quietly, respond in turn, follow instructions and complete tasks for the evaluation of a control teacher.

Brain-based research shows that such a highly regulated and mechanized approach to learning uses approximately 3% of the brain's capacity, while using all senses maximizes the learning experience.

In such a scenario, Authentic Learning becomes a vital part of education in the 21st Century. The term authentic is defined as genuine, true, and real. Simply put, Authentic learning is real life learning. Traditional learning situations in which students are passive recipients of knowledge are inconsistent with the learning situations of real-life. In order to make student learning relevant to real life experiences, learning environments must be authentic, which is the foundation of Authentic Learning. The emphasis isn't about understanding the teacher speak and regurgitating content just for a unit test, it is mainly on the quality of process and innovation.

Learning becomes active, only when students are able to connect new knowledge with their prior understanding. Authentic learning provides opportunities for students to engage in genuine learning problems, experiences which magnify student motivation. The role of the teacher, also transforms from a dictator to a guide and facilitator.

Reeves et al (2002) have much to say about the characteristics of authentic learning. Their list of 10 characteristics below are a very useful toolkit for any teacher who wishes to ensure that authentic learning is supported in their classroom:
1. Real-world relevance: Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualized or classroom-based tasks.
2. Ill-defined: Activities require students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity.
3. Complex, sustained tasks: Activities are completed in days, weeks, and months rather than minutes or hours. They require significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
4. Multiple perspectives: Provides the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives using a variety of resources, and separate relevant from irrelevant information.
5. Collaborative: Collaboration is integral and required for task completion.
6. Value laden: Provide the opportunity to reflect and involve students’ beliefs and values.
7. Interdisciplinary: Activities encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable learners to play diverse roles and build expertise that is applicable beyond a single well-defined field or domain.
8. Authentically assessed: Assessment is seamlessly integrated with learning in a manner that reflects how quality is judged in the real world.
9. Authentic products: Authentic activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else.
10. Multiple possible outcomes: Activities allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of predefined rules and procedures.

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