Learning-by-doing is generally considered the most effective way to learn. The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving.  Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in virtual communities of practice.

Students immersed in authentic learning activities cultivate the kinds of “portable skills” that newcomers to any discipline have the most difficulty acquiring on their own:
• The judgment to distinguish reliable from unreliable information
• The patience to follow longer arguments
• The synthetic ability to recognize relevant patterns in unfamiliar contexts
• The flexibility to work across disciplinary and cultural boundaries to generate innovative solutions

To be competitive in a global job market, today’s students must become comfortable with the complexities of ill-defined real-world problems. The greater their exposure to authentic disciplinary communities, the better prepared they will be “to deal with ambiguity” and put into practice the kind of “higher order analysis and complex communication” required of them as professionals.


Dede, C., Korte S., Nelson, R., Valdez, G., & Ward, D. J. (2005). Transforming learning for the 21st century: An
economic imperative. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates. Retrieved April 24, 2007, from

Jenkins, H., Clinton K., Purushotma, R., Robinson, A.J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of
participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago, IL: The MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved
April 24, 2007, from

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