The following is from http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2003/authentic_learning/

Authentic learning is a pedagogical approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999). The term authentic is defined as genuine, true, and real (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1998). If learning is authentic, then students should be engaged in genuine learning problems that foster the opportunity for them to make direct connections between the new material that is being learned and their prior knowledge. These kinds of experiences will increase student motivation. In fact, an “absence of meaning breeds low engagement in schoolwork and inhibits [learning] transfer” (Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995). Students must be able to realize that their achievements stretch beyond the walls of the classroom. They bring to the classroom experiences, knowledge, beliefs, and curiosities and authentic learning provides a means of bridging those elements with classroom learning. Students no longer simply learn rote facts in abstract or artificial situations, but they experience and use information in ways that are grounded in reality. The true power of authentic learning is the ability to actively involve students and touch their intrinsic motivation (Mehlinger, 1995).
Authentic instruction will take on a much different form than traditional methods of teaching. The literature suggests that authentic learning has several key characteristics.
  • Learning is centered on authentic tasks that are of interest to the learners.
  • Students are engaged in exploration and inquiry.
  • Learning, most often, is interdisciplinary.
  • Learning is closely connected to the world beyond the walls of the classroom.
  • Students become engaged in complex tasks and higher-order thinking skills, such as analyzing, synthesizing, designing, manipulating and evaluating information.
  • Students produce a product that can be shared with an audience outside the classroom.
  • Learning is student driven with teachers, parents, and outside experts all assisting/coaching in the learning process.
  • Learners employ scaffolding techniques.
  • Students have opportunities for social discourse.
  • Ample resources are available. (Donovan et al., 1999; Newman & Associates, 1996; Newmann et al., 1995; Nolan & Francis, 1992).