The ten-point definition provided by Jan Herrington, Ron Oliver, and Thomas C. Reeves in “Patterns of Engagement in Authentic Online Learning Environments” (Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 2 003 [19.1], 59-71) is a useful place to begin a discussion on authentic learning activities. When viewed as a process, the whole as well as the relationship among the different elements become clearer.
From Jan Herrington’s YouTube video “Authentic Learning: What Is It?” Uploaded 9.26.11. Red circle added. (Update added 3.21.12, 7:00am.)
In the authentic learning process, the selection of a suitable problem is critical. The first criterion is that it is relevant or “real,” i.e., it exists in the world outside the classroom (1). (The number in parentheses refers to the order in which the 10 items are listed.) This relevance, however, must extend to the students, too. That is, they must be able to “own” the problem. Equally important is that it must be “ill-defined” (2) or, put another way, “up in the air,” and this one requirement pretty much absorbs some of the others such as allowing for a wide spectrum of possible views (4, 10) and multi-disciplinary approaches (7). In other words, the issue matters to the students and the world at large, is controversial, isn’t fully understood, and isn’t anywhere close to being solved. In short, it’s wide open.
Examples of real and ill-defined problems abound: natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and flooding; social problems such as public schools, housing, drugs, crime, trash, healthcare, hate. The key, though, is to limit the subject so it is relevant and do-able for the student. This is where the teacher’s facilitation is critical. S/he must be able to guide students toward a segment or definition of the problem that they can address within the context of their own lives and the course. As a learning project, it must be scheduled over a substantial but manageable period of time (3), include collaborative opportunities (5), and produce a product, service, or idea that contributes to the ultimate solution of the prolem (9).
Finally, formative and summative evaluations (8) must be built into the process, making the learning recursive rather than linear. This means that students will, from the beginning of the project to the end, continually monitor the outcomes, analyze (6) them, and adjust their plan and procedures to achieve their goal.
Before leaving this subject, the idea of “collaboration” may be worth exploring further. In some cases, we should perhaps not limit it to classmates but include, wholly or in part, people in the community. Technology makes this community option
a viable option, and the potential benefits are obvious.