There is a significant body of knowledge about how people learn in formal learning environments. Independent of the mode of delivery: in classroom, blended, or fully online, the below principles distill this research into qualities we can implement in our learning design. We can even use these evidence-based principles to reflect on our existing practices (Reilly & Reeves, 2022) so that we can purposefully direct our efforts towards these evidence-based principles for design.
Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulas inside a realistic— and highly social—context mimicking the ordinary practices of the disciplinary culture.
Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring learners to identify for themselves the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the major task.
Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.
Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.
Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.
Learning activities enable presentation and defense of arguments.
Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.
Conclusions are not merely exercises or sub-steps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.
Multiple interpretations and outcomes
Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.
Multiple sources and perspectives
Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.