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Authentic Learning – Save or Delete?

KellerCurrent Educational Issues, Neuroscience Leave a Comment

Let’s design a traditional classroom lesson based on achieving the curriculum outcomes for the following topic.


 Riding a bicycle


  • Identify and correctly name the different part of a bicycle.
  • Identify and chronologically list the different types of bicycles used in history.  
  • Locate and name the top ten cycling nations today on a world map.
  • Compare the use of the bicycle as a popular means of transport in The Netherlands and in South Africa.
  • Explain the physics behind the ability of the rotating pedal, cog and chain to propel the bicycle forward.
  • List the 5 key factors necessary for bicycle safety and maintenance.
  • Test your knowledge in a standardised test and rank your ability against peers of similar ages.

The above outcomes are typical of most education systems.  We teach the ABOUT.  We don’t teach the DO.  

If we are going to teach Bicycle Riding – let’s get on it and ride it.  Let’s do it.  Authentic Learning is making sure that learning is relevant, meaningful and sense-making.  At the end of the learning module – you should be able to apply the learnt knowledge in the world of work.

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The brain is far more complex than a computer, but all of us understand these two concepts.  We save things that are important and we delete things that are not important or wasting memory space.  This is a good metaphor when we try to understand the concept of authentic learning.

Authentic learning is designed to match the school experience with real world activities and topics.  When tasks are matched to the real world learning suddenly has meaning and purpose.

Bottomline – information (data) that is meaningful and purposeful is saved by the brain and data that lacks meaning is deleted.  The question that immediately arises is…

Who determines what is meaningful?  

Let’s answer that question with another question.  What do you think happens to classroom management challenges when students are engaged and interested in the topic being presented?  The answer is obvious. 

  • Classroom Management problems decline significantly when the brain is engaged and interested in a lesson. 
  • An engaged brain doesn’t have the capacity to multitask – let alone get up to mischief.  But a disengaged brain loves to rapidly uni-task at being problematic, annoying and disruptive. 
  • When the disengaged brain receives the necessity attention, even though it is often negative, the experience is rewarding and therefore repeated – causing ongoing classroom management challenges.

The secret is to make sure the lessons are relevant and engaging, authentic and real world based.  This causes the brain to stretch out and push the save button instead of the delete button.. 


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