Authentic learning contexts

“The use of authentic tasks is also advocated to foster learning transfer in the belief that the collaboration among students helps them learn not only the concepts under discussion but also how these concepts are used in the workplace or in life (Jaworski, 1994 ). To accomplish an authentic task, students must interact through sharing what they are thinking, relating their ideas to past experiences, collaborating with their peers, actively constructing their own meaning, and incorporating the diverse perspectives of others,” (Woo & Reeves, 2007 p.20).

Although written in the context of web-based learning, this has implications for  ‘contextualising’ learning in face-to-face learning as well. To foster the transfer of learning, not only is collaboration needed, but a truly authentic context, rather than a forced one. Woo and Reeves identified ten characteristics of authentic activities (from p.21):

  • “1. Authentic activities have real-world relevance.
  • 2. Authentic activities are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity.
  • 3. Authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time.
  • 4. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources.
  • 5. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to collaborate.
  • 6. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to reflect.
  • 7. Authentic activities can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes.
  • 8. Authentic activities are seamlessly integrated with assessment.
  • 9. Authentic activities create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something
  • else.
  • 10. Authentic activities allow competing solutions and diversity of outcomes.”

To summarise, authentic activities can take multiple paths, require flexibility, collaboration, and learner control. They require higher order thinking and certainly scaffolding to support students at their various stages of development. Authentic learning tasks are messy (and I would disagree that with point number nine that they create polished products – that isn’t necessarily learning.

Woo, Y., & Reeves, T. C. (2007). Meaningful interaction in web-based learning: A social constructivist interpretation. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 15–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.10.005

 

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