Ignite@Elphin, Year 5 Service projects, Year 3 Pop-up Sustainability, Early Years Bush Learning, Middle School EY8 Projects and Senior Years STEAM projects are a small sample of authentic learning experiences engaging students across the College in a typical school year.
Student questions, interests and motivation play a central role in initiating and leading the learning in each of these experiences. Teachers support and guide the learning as they ask questions, prompt learning directions, provide strategies, supplement with content and, in the background, map direct links to the curriculum. They also adapt the level of instruction and guidance around these elements to achieve the right fit for the interests and needs of learners at different ages and stages of development.
The spark that ignites the whole experience though is the ‘real world’ relevance that students’ know is at the heart of it. There is a sense of purpose here that makes it something different to ‘school’ exercises.
The term ‘authentic learning’ has been appearing in educational writings and research for a long time now. It is more than just another buzzword passing by. Authentic learning is inter-disciplinary, skills-based learning in a real-life context, demonstrating to students that their learning is connected, relevant, and can have an impact upon the world around them, as well as on their own learning capabilities. A wealth of research on learning continues to highlight what we all know: learning by doing and through direct experience that is seen as relevant, is more effective than learning by just listening or observing or completing tasks that aren’t seen (by the learner) to be meaningful. ‘Why are we learning this?’ or ‘When am I going to use this in real life?’.
Authentic learning is not just about learning new content, although this is still an extremely important aspect of it, it is going further to acquire the deeper understanding and make the connections needed to retain or readily recollect this information. It is based around real-life experiences or simulations of real-life experiences. Learners interact with the community, either by going out into the community (actually or virtually) or by bringing people or things from the community into the learning environment (actually or virtually).
Contemporary brain-based research affirms the importance of multi-sensory activities, the pursuit of meaningful and relevant tasks and exploration of a variety of skills with real-world applications. Through authentic learning experiences, creativity, thinking and reasoning are challenged, sparking engagement, motivation and a plethora of further questions. All of this means using the brain to far greater effect. Contrast this with students of past eras sitting at desks taking notes and regurgitating curriculum content – we now know using approximately 3% of their brain’s capacity! Authentic learning experiences enhance three essential goals of all learning: acquisition of knowledge, making meaning and transfer of knowledge or skills.
Every day, in both our professional and personal lives, we come up against unfamiliar situations in which we have to solve problems, adapt our own behaviours and make decisions. We do this by utilising and manipulating the knowledge we already have, drawing upon our experiences and skills to guide our choices and help us to determine our next steps within the context of the situation we find ourselves in. Authentic learning aims to equip students with these essential life skills, to show the connection between learning and real-life and to give students the problem-solving abilities that they require for life beyond school.
Teachers working with learners of all ages, from Early Learning to Year 12, strive hard to incorporate authentic experiences in everyday learning at the College. It is a vital component of ‘creating the future’ for our learners as well as making our learning community such an engaging and inspiring one.