Authentic Learning: A Practical Introduction & Guide for Implementation

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, 1995).

By Clif Mims

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