Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

14 December 2011

Authentic Learning

Clark @ 1:29 AM

This week, #change11 is being hosted by Jan Herrington (who I had the pleasure of meeting in West Australia many years ago; highly recommended). She’s talking about authentic learning, and has a nice matrix separating task type and setting to help characterize her approach.  It’s an important component of making our learning more effective.  On the way home from my evening yesterday, I wrote up some notes about a learning event I attended, that seem to be perfectly appropriate in this context:

I had the pleasure of viewing some project presentations from Hult Business School, courtesy of Jeff Saperstein. It’s an interesting program; very international, and somewhat non-traditional.

In this situation, the students had been given a project by a major international firm to develop recommendations for their social business. I saw five of the teams present, and it was fascinating.  I found out that they balanced the teams for diversity (students were very clearly from around the world including Europe, Asia, and Latin America), and they got some support in working together as well.

Overall, the presentations were quite well done. Despite some small variation in quality and one very unique approach to the problem, I was impressed with the coherence of the presentations and the solidity of the outcomes.  Some were very clearly uniquely innovative new ideas that would benefit the firm.

The process was good too; the firm had organized a visit to their local (world class) research center, and were available (through a limited process) for  questions. A representative of the firm heard the presentations (through Skype!) and provided live feedback. He was very good, citing all the positives and asking a few questions.

Admittedly they had some lack of experience, but when I think how I would’ve been able to perform at that age, I really recognized the quality of the outcome.

This sort of grounded practice in addressing real questions in a structured manner is a great pedagogy. The students worked together on projects that were meaningful to them both in being real and being interesting, and received meaningful feedback. You get valuable conceptual processing and meta-skills as well. The faculty told me afterward that many of these students had worked only in their home company prior to this, but after this diverse experience, they were truly globally-ready.

How are you providing meaningful learning experiences?


  1. I try to think in terms of what is meaningful and what is relevant for the students. I try to find a balance between giving them some level of choice with regard to content, process, and product and curating content, process, and product while adhering to certain guidelines with plenty of formative assessment (i.e., less of a division between assessment and instruction). When students are given the chance to produce the guidelines or assessment criteria themselves, they are typically more motivated to rise to the occasion. Expectations are presented from the beginning of the learning progression, so there are no surprises as the what the expectations are for the performance. I’m a big fan of Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) notion of “performance task” designed to provide evidence of understandings: students can explain, interpret, and apply their knowledge, and have perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.

    Comment by Benjamin — 14 December 2011 @ 6:55 AM

  2. Sounds like a fabulous experience! One of my favorite approaches to authentic learning is to focus on a meaningful outside task (i.e., outside the school) and position myself as a guide, resource, or helper. It takes quite a while to get used to the idea of working with a teacher (as opposed to for one), but it eventually becomes a transformative experience for some of them. One recent example is proposal-writing in a Grade 9 English class. Several student-generated ideas won monetary ards, which provided students with a greater sense of accomplishment than any conventional writing assignment. They will remember it all their lives… The biggest challenge for me is not letting the necessity of assessment turn me into a judgmental, threatening figure. I generally get around it by insisting that the proposal be perfect before submission. That takes a lot of time, effort, and patience on my part, but it’s worth it because it helps the kids.

    Comment by Bruce Forsyth — 14 December 2011 @ 7:49 PM

  3. Clark, were these face-to-face presentation only, or are they online? They sound ideal to link to the resources we are collecting in #change11 and they follow on so nicely from your presentation on slow learning last week in the MOOC.

    Comment by Jan Herrington — 14 December 2011 @ 9:11 PM

  4. Benjamin, I like understanding by design, and even mentioned it in a prior post. Good stuff, and allowing students choice or to participate in choosing their topic is a valuable meta-learning experience.

    Bruce, I love service learning, where students are focused on solving problems outside the class, contributing to the real world, which sounds a lot like what you’re talking about. And I like interim submissions, where the learners can get formative feedback. As you say, more assessment work, but better outcomes. Jeff told me he spent a lot of time working with the projects.

    Jan, sorry, they were F2F presentations only, no online component.

    Comment by Clark — 15 December 2011 @ 3:47 PM

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