Education

Authentic Learning enables students to engage in exploration and inquiry.

Parvathy Jayakrishnan
Authentic Learning enables students to engage in exploration and inquiry.

From Gurukul to Montessori and syllabus-oriented learning, we have experimented with several methods of learning hoping to find the one that suits the learner best. Authentic learning is not a term we are very familiar with but it is certainly one that is grabbing the attention of educators worldwide. 

In a traditional classroom set-up, knowledge is merely a set of facts that is verbally transmitted from teacher to student. More often than not, there is no engagement and students do not even show interest to enquire more about what is being taught, as the topics may not catch their interest.

Authentic learning, on the other hand, describes learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations. It is absolutely contrary to the rote learning system or the system of reading and learning from textbooks. It focuses on learning from experience and does not rely on textbooks or exams for evaluation. This method of learning targets real-world problems or simulated problems and their solutions beyond the four walls of a classroom. Here, the educator provides his students with a motivational problem along with timelines, planning and other resources required to solve the problem. It allows students to create a meaningful, useful and shared outcome. 

The idea is as simple as this: For a person who wants to learn swimming, he can read as many articles and watch as many videos available on the internet about swimming but to actually learn the skill, he really needs to get into the water. Authentic learning believes in the same principle. It supports learning from experience.

According to Steve Revington, a pioneer in authentic learning and recipient of the Prime Minister’s award for Excellence in Education in Canada, “Authentic learning is the essential setting that education requires to move towards sustainable, meaningful, relevant learning in the 21st century. It is not the latest strategic vessel to explore education’s ocean - authentic learning is the ocean.” He believes that our greatest shortcoming in education these past few years has been to ignore the brain research that is richly available to us that affirms that implementing multi-sensory activities, pursuing meaningful tasks, and exploring a variety of skills with real world applications is optimal learning - and that it needs to be practiced regularly.

In the authentic learning method, a real-life problem or a simulated task is provided to students by a teacher. They are provided with the necessary resources, guidelines and timelines to complete the task at hand. Students produce a product/ solution and share it with an audience outside the classroom, to be critiqued. This allows for the learner to be reflective, take in new opinions and ideas and, as a result, learn more from the group. Assessment is also therefore integrated within the learning task, thereby eliminating the need for exams to evaluate learning outcomes. 

It has been proven that students who follow authentic learning exercise higher levels of thinking and are better equipped to face the world on their own. Teachers also need to give them problems to solve that will test their boundaries and help them achieve more. 

According to Steve, “A student sitting at a desk, taking notes and regurgitating curriculum content uses approximately 3 per cent of their brain’s capacity. In general, students learn to sit quietly, respond in turn, follow instructions and complete tasks for the evaluation of a control teacher. If all we do is sit at a square table, with a square piece of paper, in a square room with departmentalized lessons and timetables, then what are our education systems really producing? Brain-based research shows that using all senses maximises the learning experience. Interacting, manipulating, exploring, collaborating, discussing openly and sharing for meaningful reasons while having ample time to nurture a greater depth of reasoning and creativity, is optimal learning. It's learning that sticks. It's learning with roots.”

Authentic learning has a number of characteristics that gives it an edge over the traditional learning method. It enables students to engage in exploration and inquiry. Learning, most often, is interdisciplinary. It requires integration of content from several disciplines and leads to outcomes beyond the domain-specific learning outcomes. Students are inspired to analyse, synthesise, design and evaluate information on their own, of course, with the help of a guiding mentor. In this method, students are forced to think and the outcome of the learning experience is not predetermined. In fact, different students may come up with different solutions to a given problem and sharing the outcomes helps them learn from others too. They develop flexibility to work across cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Since learning is student-driven, they are more likely to develop interest in what they are doing.

The learning journey that authentic learning provides is often life-changing as it does not rely on short-term memory skills of a student; rather it focuses on the long-term learning outcomes. The content that we have formed as a syllabus for our schools is definitely important but the way it is dispensed to the students is what needs rethinking. 

In this day and age when an answer to each and every problem is available on the internet for students to access, the role of a teacher reading out lessons in class becomes redundant. 

Our schools can provide a better environment for students to enhance their knowledge by allowing them more creative licence. They need to provide a setting where learning happens not just inside a classroom but outside too, where they will have to ultimately learn to live on their own. It would be too much to ask schools to completely move into the authentic learning method but what they can positively do is dedicate a few hours in a week to this kind of learning and see the results. We need to prepare our students for the future, to face the world with confidence and it is knowledge that comes from solving real-world problems that will help them do that.

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month. 

Team ScooNews would like to thank Steve Revington for his inputs.

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