Authentic activities provide students with learning experiences that develop knowledge and skills that are immediately transferable to real-life situations. Requiring students to draw on past experiences in authentic settings and challenges is essential in creating a simulation of a real-life situation. Collaborative problem solving activities are integral to authentic activities. Learn more about authentic learning.
- Is the activity authentic?
- Does it require learners to work collaboratively and use their experiences as a starting point?
- Are the learners allowed to learn from their mistakes?
- Does the activity have value beyond the learning setting?
- Does the activity build skills that can be used beyond the life of the course?
- Do learners have a way to implement their outcomes in a meaningful way?
Source: Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaging the online learner.
The following guidelines for designing authentic learning environments in higher education is based upon nine critical characteristics of authentic learning identified by Herrington & Oliver (2000) in their extensive review of literature and technology-based learning environments.
The guidelines are based on constructivist philosophy and approaches, and specifically on situated learning theory and are summarised from Herrington & Herrington (2006).
- Provide an authentic context that reflects the way the knowledge will be used in real life
- Authentic activities
- Access to expert performances and the modelling of processes
- Multiple roles and perspectives
- Collaborative construction of knowledge
- Coaching and scaffolding
- Authentic assessment
The context needs to be all embracing, to provide the purpose and motivation for learning, and to provide a sustained and complex learning environment that can be explored at length. It is not sufficient to simply provide suitable examples from real-world situations to illustrate the concept or issue being taught. It needs to encompass a physical or virtual environment which reflects the way the knowledge will be used, and a large number of resources to enable sustained examination from different perspectives.
The tasks that students perform are arguably the most crucial aspect of the design of any learning environment. Ideally such tasks should comprise ill-defined activities that have real-world relevance, and which present complex tasks to be completed over a sustained period of time, rather than a series of shorter disconnected examples.
To expose students to expert performance is to give them a model of how a real practitioner behaves in a real situation. Access to such modelling of processes has its origins in the apprenticeship system of learning, where students and craftspeople learned new skills under the guidance of an expert.
In a more authentic learning environment, it is important to enable and encourage students to explore different perspectives, and to ‘criss cross’ the learning environment repeatedly. Instruction which puts forward a single, ‘correct’ interpretation, is not false, but inadequate.
The opportunity for users to collaborate is an important design element, particularly for students who may be learning at a distance. Collaboration may be viewed as the participants working together to solve a problem where the outcome is better than that achieved independently.
In order to provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, the learning environment needs to provide an authentic context and task, as described earlier, to enable meaningful reflection. Many theorists see reflection as both a process and a product and that it is action oriented.
In order to produce a learning environment capable of providing opportunities for articulation, courses need to incorporate inherent opportunities to articulate, and in particular the public presentation of argument to enable defence of the position.
In order to accommodate a coaching and scaffolding role principally by the teacher (but also provided by other students), an authentic learning environment needs to provide collaborative learning, where more able partners can assist with scaffolding and coaching, as well as the means for the teacher to support learning, for example, via appropriate communication technologies.
In order to provide authentic assessment of student learning, the learning environment needs to ensure the assessment is seamlessly integrated with the activity and provide the opportunity for students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge, and to craft products or performances in collaboration with others.
Herrington, A.J., & Herrington, J.A. (Eds.) (2006). Authentic Learning Environments in Higher Education. Hershey, PA: Idea Group.
Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.
- Role play
- Problem based activities
- Case studies
- Virtual communities of practice
- Work placements