Authentic Problems/Challenges

Authentic learning activities are conducted in the specific social and physical environment in which their application will occur. The key to developing and delivering authentic learning activities is to situate the learning (in the context wherein it will be applied). The aim is to develop learners’ real world application of concepts by engaging them in tasks that are more relevant to their lives instead of abstract, decontextualized knowledge.One of the key tenets of situated learning is that knowledge is co-constructed through social interaction among learners. The success of situated learning depends on the level of authenticity (i.e. degree of similitude with real world) of the interaction and the underlying task. Higher levels of authenticity yield deeper and more meaningful learning. Some examples include simulations, role playing, interactive workshops and communities of practice.

Brennan & Resnick cite collaborative game design as an example of authentic problems/challenges. They argue that engaging learners as producers of multi modal artifacts yields learning benefits far beyond their engagement as consumers of instructional video games. One of the skills acquired through this activity is software design. One might argue that this makes game design a highly authentic activity for future software (or game) designers, but what about others?

The scope of learning in these activities is beyond technical skills and it includes corresponding learning in communication, collaboration, digital literacy, participation, project management, problem solving, negotiation, prototyping, review and reflection. A learner’s future may or may not include software design, but it will definitely require a level of skill in all the secondary skills listed above. In fact, depending on how the activity is conducted, the (above listed) secondary skills could be assessed as the primary skills for the task (i.e. the software itself is secondary). It would be difficult to argue against the authenticity of this activity when we realize that although the learners are working with software, they are not learning the software, they are actually focusing on the design (or co-design). In this light, the learning activities are a type of design thinking (a la Tim Brown) and their authenticity is validated by the level of participatory design that we all engage in on a daily basis in our real lives. (Where we read participatory design as the recognition of a problem and the application of collaborative problem solving in order to create, evaluate and implement solutions.) Thus, the activity gains its authenticity through participation and not through the development of technical skills.


Kafai, Y. 2006. Playing and making games for learning: Instructionist and constructionist perspectives. Games and Culture. 1(1). 36-40.

Brennan, K. & Resnick, M. 2013. Chapter 17: Imagining, Creating, Playing, Sharing, Reflecting: how online community supports young people as designers of interactive media. In C. Mouza and N. Lavigne (eds.), Emerging Technologies for the Classroom, Explorations in the Learning Sciences, Instructional Systems and Performance Technologies. New York: Springer Science+Business.DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-4696-5_17

Seymour Papert – Inventor of Everything: Gary Stager at TEDxASB (2014)

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