Authentic learning is based on the idea that classes and curriculums are built on real-world tasks that are relevant to learners. When connections between education and real-life can be made, learners are immediately more interested and motivated and have more fun in the learning process.
Authentic learning can be used at any stage of a student’s education, starting with theme-based learning in kindergarten and nursery and then carried into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Each year builds more on the last, and a method of learning is forged to last a lifetime.
The one thing that can demonstrate the virtues of authentic learning more than anything else can be boiled down to a single word; exploration. When a student can explore a topic and relate it to their own life, authentic learning occurs.
A phrase that often occurs with learners using authentic learning is ‘oh, so that is why…’ This is one of the best things a teacher can hear. It shows that the student has connected learning to something in their real life. Once this happens, there is a connection that creates more interest in learning.
So now we know that authentic learning allows students to learn via methods relevant to their own lives; let’s take a look at how authentic learning can be used to achieve a better quality of education.
– The first, and maybe most important, part of authentic learning is that it facilitates student-led learning. This is where a student or group of students are able to move around and explore the topic. No longer are they sitting at a desk being fed information that can potentially get monotonous and easy to forget. They are instead actively putting connections together. This could be done via practical classes indoors or even a small field trip. Let’s not forget why field trips have been used for generations in schools; to gain first-hand experience and create interest in something. This is authentic learning.
– Once a student is engaged in a topic, they naturally become more inquisitive. This can be thought of as the second stage of authentic learning. Students explore the subject more and use one of the most powerful questions in education, ‘why?’ Once students start asking that question, they lead their own learning.
• Students that have used authentic learning can produce meaningful products, ideas, or solutions that can be used outside of a classroom. This gives their work a lot more value; it has not been created simply to obtain a grade but because they wanted to do it. This is especially important because students will eventually become adults. They will need to solve problems or create new ideas in personal and professional scenarios for the rest of their lives. Creating a pathway to achieve this is one of the cornerstones of authentic learning.
• Authentic learning allows students to look at a problem from different perspectives, both collaboratively and alone. Having different perspectives on an issue and creating a range of outcomes to discuss drives the world forward. We are rarely looking for one single answer but rather a range of ideas to debate and choose from.
So there are some of the fundamentals of authentic learning. Connections to real-life experiences deepen our understanding and allow for reflection and different opinions on any given topic.
At this point, I think it would be to use some authentic learning to understand how it is used. Let’s take a look at what might happen when we try to use authentic learning with a group of kindergarten or elementary school children.
A day may start with a field trip to a park. The purpose of the visit is to research small bugs in the park. Students can speak to each other and their teacher about what they find. We must remember it is an explorative exercise, and cross-subject questions should be welcomed. Students may ask about the bugs, but they may also ask about the leaves and trees, they may ask about the upkeep of the park and the other people there, and they may ask about the weather on the day. At this point, they are guiding their own learning through inquisitive questions and are forming real-life connections to the subject.
After a day in the park, students can be asked to write a story about some of the bugs they found and incorporate other learning on the day. Suddenly, real-life experiences have allowed them to learn about biology, social studies, and other subjects. When writing their stories, they improve their writing skills and maybe even art with some drawings. They can then listen to other stories, allowing a different perspective to their own.
And there, we have the essence of authentic learning. We all use it in one way or another. We maybe just didn’t know the term. Humans always look to create patterns between what we learn and experiences in our own lives. It’s how we learn, so it’s how we teach.