Designing Authentic Learning Tasks

The traditional approach to instructional design has been bruised and battered for some years now.  Sometimes the criticism is legitimate and thoughtful and other times it is shallow and faddish.   I think one of the genuine concerns is its deconstruction of learning into small learning tasks which are categorized into learning domains using a learning taxonomy often based on the broad categories of cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills.  Instructional strategies are selected based on their match to learning domain.

Learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential Brown, Collins & Duguid. 1989

While this approach can be effective for learning discreet tasks, it struggles when trying to teach more complex skills which almost always contain elements from all domains.   Modern approaches are based more on designing learning in it’s the full social, cognitive and skilled based context.  This implies a more holistic approach rather than the deconstruction approaches of the past (although, the vast majority of instructional design continues to use traditional approaches).

This new wave of learning design models come in a many variations and each has slightly differing methods, philosophies and approaches.   Here are a few:

How to design authentic learning tasks

Authentic learning tasks are whole-task experiences based on real life (work) tasks that integrate skills, knowledge attitude and social context.  Instruction is organized around the whole task, usually in an easy to difficult progression, which “scaffolds” learning support from “lots to little” as learners progress.

Identifying what an authentic learning task can be challenging.  The term is often used without any real guidance on how to identify whole tasks and then transfer them to a training context.  I stumbled on the following framework from Authentic Task Design, a research project of the University of Wollongong in Australia.  They suggest 10 research based elements for the design of authentic tasks in web-based learning environments. I thought it was a useful guide.  Hope you do to.

1. Authentic tasks have real-world relevance

Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than de-contextualised or classroom-based tasks.

2. Authentic tasks are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity

Problems inherent in the tasks are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task.

3. Authentic tasks comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time
Tasks are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources
The task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information.

5. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to collaborate
Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner.

6. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to reflect
Tasks need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.

7. Authentic tasks can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes
Tasks encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise rather than a single well-defined field or domain.

8. Authentic tasks are seamlessly integrated with assessment
Assessment of tasks is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task.

9. Authentic tasks create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else
Tasks culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.

10. Authentic tasks allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome
Tasks allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of rules and procedures.

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