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What Is Authentic Learning?

Lily Ruha
Lily Ruha

Authentic learning involves teaching techniques that empower learners to apply new information in a real-world context. Through asking questions and making choices, learners strengthen critical skills, including analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. With application to real settings, such as the home, community, or professional life, this learning method often generates more learner engagement and enthusiasm. In this contextualized learning approach, learners typically draw on multiple disciplines as they process information. Technological advancements also have expanded and deepened the opportunities and resources utilized in this type of learning.

In contrast to traditional lecture methods, authentic learning typically involves a hands-on approach. With a vested interest in the class activity, learners grasp material through techniques beyond listening, note taking, and rote memorization. Instead of asking students to read a book and write a book report, for example, a teacher may break students up into groups to discuss the book. Learners may be asked to apply the book's themes to their personal lives, and express their understanding through speaking, drawing, dancing, or acting.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Authentic learning often exposes students to multiple disciplines and skills. A marketing teacher may ask students to explore the best ways to market a particular product. Class participants may then devise a strategy that involves interviewing consumers, designing marketing materials, exploring consumer psychology, and/or engaging in data analysis. Solving problems through a variety of techniques and approaches builds critical thinking skills, and prepares learners for professional and community environments. In this respect, authentic learning is considered a more comprehensive learning approach than simply reading how-to instructions or memorizing facts.

Teachers who create authentic learning opportunities typically take on the role of a guide. This involves setting up an exercise and allowing learners to take the lead in many respects. A teacher may present a difficult community problem to the class and ask learners to devise a solution. Students may brainstorm solutions that could involve working in small groups, researching the various facets of the problem, developing flyers to increase awareness, and attending meetings in the community. The teacher also may experience significant learning opportunities during this process as learners ask questions or make innovative suggestions.

Technological advancements have expanded opportunities for authentic learning across schools, communities, and professional environments. The ability to create websites and videos allows learners to explore numerous methods for integrating and expressing what they have learned. University students are no longer limited to books in libraries, and may video conference with professors and experts across the globe. High school students interested in assisting their peers in a developing country may hold an online conference to ask questions about their pressing needs.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books