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In this lesson, we will see how authentic learning activities take class material into the real world, what some examples of these activities are and why they are so valuable to students.

Authentic Learning Activities

Do you remember taking a class and trying to learn all the information just to pass the test? You didn’t see how that material could be applicable to your own life, so your level of interest in it wasn’t too deep, and the whole reason for studying was to get a good grade. Or do you remember ever thinking classes were boring and uneventful? A large number of students feel that schoolwork is uninteresting and has little, if any, relevance to their lives.While this perspective is very common, it is also the very reason for authentic learning to come into the picture.

You see, educators noticed the gap between what students learn in class and its application to their lives. They also knew that because of this disconnect, there was less interest in class material and less of an impact on the student. Enter in authentic learning activities. Authentic learning activities are tasks given to students in the real world where they can apply what they learned in class and continue to learn more in a setting that is relevant to them.

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Examples

A child who is learning about basic math skills can use his or her knowledge when assigned to run a lemonade stand. Now, he or she can use subtraction to return change to customers and can practice the skill. Suddenly, math is more than numbers on a page.Students who are studying geology can go on a trip analyzing various sediments and reporting about their impact on the land. Biology students may be given the chance to go snorkeling and make a presentation on the issues of overfishing.There are any number of tasks that can be given to students to make class material useful, relevant and interesting.

Basic Tenets

Let’s look at the basic tenets of authentic learning activities:1. Learning activities relate to the real world/real lifeThe most fundamental premise of authentic learning activities is that they are based outside the classroom. The idea behind this is that material that is hand fed to the student via lectures and notes can only go so far, but when students are given the chance to use what they have learned, and to use it in a real life setting, they have the chance to personally own this material through practice. They also get the chance to see the ideas they learned come to life and recognize why they are important: because they are relevant to life.For example, the study of flooding may not reveal to the student its degree of impact, but when students take a trip to an area that has been flooded, they can see more clearly its results and why its study and prevention is so crucial.2. Tasks that are applicable and of interest to learnersActivities can only become more useful to students when the students have an interest in them.

Ideally, authentic learning activities are meant to match students up with projects that will both complement and arouse their personal interest. For example, is there an issue in a student’s community that can use the concepts they are learning in class?3. Students are encouraged to think critically, organize and evaluate dataRather than being merely told information by the teacher, students are guided into doing much of their own learning. While being given certain guidelines for activities, students have to figure out other details in managing the project as it proceeds. They will be in charge of taking the steps necessary to reach the end goal and then to assimilate and judge the results.4.

Students produce a product or share results with a real audienceWhile students are often given projects to present to their classmates, in authentic learning activities, the discovered results are shared with a real audience. This could include parents or people from the community. This step further establishes a student’s grasp of his or her learning, as well as a sense of personal investment through presentation.

The Value

There is nothing quite like the impact of an experience on a person. While we can certainly become educated, enlightened and personally affected by what we learn in the classroom, there is the potential for an even deeper level of understanding and transformation that can come only through experience. After all, if you think of the things in life that have impacted you the most, they will probably be the things you have experienced rather than just heard about.

One reason many schools promote trips to countries that are being studied, for example, is so the student can use their five senses to grasp what those places are really like. In authentic learning activities, students can grasp at both a mental and emotional level what the concepts they’ve studied are really about, why they are important and what more there is to learn about them. If students are really supposed to acquire what they learn in school and develop more as learners themselves, then authentic learning activities are certainly the way to go.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Authentic learning activities are tasks given to students in the real world where they can apply what they learned in class and continue to learn more in a setting that is relevant to them. The basic tenets of authentic learning activities include:

  • Learning activities relate to the real world/real life
  • Tasks that are applicable and of interest to learners
  • Students are encouraged to think critically, organize and evaluate data
  • Students produce a product or share results with a real audience

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