Student-Driven Approaches to Authentic Learning

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Weekly Tip: Student-Driven Approaches to Authentic Learning

Note: This Tip was edited on October 2, 2020.

Authentic Learning describes learning activities that are either carried out in real-world contexts, or have high transfer to a real-world setting. Authentic learning activities should have both personal and cultural relevance.

‐Stein, Isaacs, & Andrews, 2004

Authentic learning—in both context and audience—can promote deep learning resulting in increased student curiosity, attention, and passion. Below are some tips and successful examples of student-driven authentic learning that you can easily incorporate into your course.

Simple Strategies to Incorporate Authentic Learning

  1. Allow students to choose context.
  2. Involve industry experts.
  3. Use questions to explore concepts.
  4. Create interdisciplinary teams.

Allow Students to Choose Context

Giving students the ability to choose their context will allow them to apply the content in a relevant way. Even transitioning the context from the classroom to include real stakeholders can make projects and assignments more authentic.

Involve Industry Experts

There are a multitude of ways to include experts from the industry to meet you and your students’ needs. The WSU Alumni network is a great place to find industry experts who know and understand WSU.

Engagement with Real Stakeholders

Is there a real-world audience (victims, stakeholders, etc.) to whom the students can present their solution? Students can apply what they’re learning in the course by addressing a real-world issue at an organization.

Public Blogs and Social Media

Many professionals are active on social media and can provide informal feedback and help guide the revision of a project.

Social media makes questions, explorations, challenges and learning visible to the rest of the world. Learning is positioned so that it can be accessed by broader communities and more diverse thinking and perspectives. Many eyes and minds will help nudge one out of narrow and habitual ways of thinking and help to move more quickly through challenges. In short, two brains are better than one and global collaboration trumps thinking in a silo. By using social media, students can experience:

  • Persuasion and defense of thought in a public setting.  
  • Learning beyond the classroom
  • Social networking.
  • Application of course principles to authentic situations in community.
    • Share results with the class for further discussion.
  • Feedback from stakeholders.
Use Industry Experts to Grade and Provide Feedback

Providing this authentic audience allows students to remove themselves from a purely academic context. The feedback they receive is critical in identifying priorities and outcomes.

Comparative Ethnic Studies (CES) 308 Example 

Students identified topics of interest then collaboratively edited and wrote articles in Wikipedia. During this process they improved articles by adding citations, checked facts, and built on existing text. They practiced persuasion and defense of thought in a public setting and collaboration with a much larger and more diverse community, beyond the artificial constraints of the class. The emphasis shifted from a traditional semester-based class to ongoing scholarly investigation of a topic.

Use Questions to Explore Concepts

Present open-ended questions and challenges for students to navigate. Students would have the opportunity to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as specific course topics. Through this process, the students should be able to articulate the problem, hypothesize, explain methods used, synthesize information, etc.

Create Interdisciplinary Teams

Capitalize on your students’ diverse backgrounds and areas of study by creating dynamic interdisciplinary teams. This can also replicate a more authentic team experience from the industry. 

Learn more 

Weekly Tip: Authentic Learning Objectives

Weekly Tip: Authentic Learning Experiences and Assessments

Weekly Tip: Creating Impactful Student Experiences

A tip on Service Learning is coming soon! 


Authentic Learning, Wikipedia

  1. Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino. (1999). How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
  2. Stein, S. J., Isaacs, G. & Andrews, T.  (2004).  Incorporating authentic learning experiences within a university course.  Studies in Higher Education, 29(2), 239-258.

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