Authentic learning/teaching/assessment is not a single educational theory. The theoretical approach of John Dewey (1859-1952), the founder of the philosophical school of pragmatism, grew into Inquiry-based education.
The 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act articulated an education reform strategy that included innovative approaches to classroom teaching, guided learning experiences outside of the classroom, usually at work, and increased career counseling and guidance. The impetus for this reform came from a growing anxiety during the 1980’s that America’s youth were not prepared for the rapidly changing world of work. Initially, this approach was seen as most appropriate for students not headed for college. But researchers are now praising its potential to serve as a model for all secondary school curricula.
Reformers are advocating a shift from a “teacher-centered” classroom, in which the teacher transmits information to the student, toward a “learner-centered” approach in which students are actively engaged in the discovery or “construction” of their own knowledge.
Students should not only learn basic skills, but incorporate those skills into tasks requiring complex thinking and in-depth knowledge which is then used to solve problems and create actual products. These products should have value in settings outside the classroom.Construction of knowledge is accomplished through task completion in which the learner has played an active and creative role. This type of engagement is particularly meaningful when the task is something which has personal meaning for the student. Disciplined inquiry occurs when students hypothesize by stating questions and determining resources necessary for task completion. Beyond formulating ideas, students explore and evaluate information, then synthesize to create examples, which illustrate their understanding of the problem.
Success of productive constructivism was limited because students often chose tasks that were inappropriate or far removed from traditional curriculum topics. This lead to the development of the idea of “guided discovery” or “goal-based scenarios”.
A Goal-Based Scenario is a learning activity in which the teacher identifies a set of target skills for students to which students can be held accountable. The teacher identifies a mission which will require utilization of the identified target skills and will choose a focus of the general task of the mission. The focus might be for a student to design something, or to diagnose a situation. The student might be given a mission to discover something or to control something. A cover story helps set the stage for the GBS as it envelopes the chosen mission.
Even if students are allowed to plan their own scenario, the teacher provides some guidance to insure the scenario has value and identify time restraints.
Finally, the teacher builds a learning environment which will support the target skills. This model transforms the teacher from the role of the selector, presenter, and evaluator to the role of brainstormer, manager, and leader.
What began as productive constructivism became guided discovery, and is now called authentic pedagogy – often involving long-term projects, usually done in groups, about difficult issues that require some complex written or oral final presentation.