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Author: Marcia A. Wratcher and Jonathan M. Dapra

Last week we discussed our use of local businesses to create an authentic learning experience for our students by having them solve real-life business problems. Here, we discuss how to create a similar experience in other courses.

In authentic learning, the curriculum is not imposed on students in a structured week-to-week or topic-based format. Instead, it unfolds as students work their way through the problem before them.

Students must be encouraged to think and explore. They often determine the sequence and time in which information is provided or reinforced to them according to their needs. As a result, the role of faculty changes from the traditional teaching model. Faculty members must become facilitators, coaches, monitors, and resource providers to be effective in the authentic learning environment. Faculty teaching in the authentic environment must feel comfortable with what can be perceived as a lack of structure to which they are accustomed. A high level of interaction with students is required. Faculty must recollect what has happened in the group, where each student is, and what each student needs (information, prompts, etc.) for their success. They also must be cognizant of the partner’s expectations. The course is a beneficial experience for both students and partners. Facilitation must be strong for an authentic learning experience to be successful.

How to get started with an authentic learning experience

Preparing an authentic learning experience requires considerable up-front work and preplanning. But please know the investment is one time. Faculty need to be prepared on day one—having a clear understanding of the partner and an idea of the potential scope of work and anticipating (even reaching out to) outside experts whom they may need to ask for assistance during the course. Best practices for preplanning your authentic learning class include the following:

Tips for making sure the experience is successful

Here are guidelines for implementing authentic learning experiences in your courses:

Providing authentic learning experiences will challenge students and provide them with knowledge and skills they can take into the workplace. More importantly, the approach is exciting and engaging and will result in motivated students and faculty who can bring a new learning experience and value to themselves and their classrooms.


Marcia A. Wratcher, PhD, is a distinguished core professor at Northcentral University, and Jonathan M. Dapra, PhD, is the Rosenblum Endowed Professor of Business at Plymouth