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Vol. 1, No. 13      August 23, 2005    

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Today's Tip
Authentic Activities to Enhance Transfer of Skills, Part 2

DSA would like to thank Dr. Peter Honebein for contributing this month's tip on Authentic Activities. Dr. Honebein is an active associate, working on several DSA e-learning projects and he regularly teaches the DSA workshop: Designing Instruction for Web-Based Training.

The previous “Tip” told us how Authentic activities are problem-focused and how Authentic activities involve the learner playing different roles. We continue that theme with 3 more ideas about Authentic Learning Activities:

If you are designing courses for your learners that involve high-level problem solving skills, an instructional strategy you should consider is authentic activities. Authentic activities engage learners in situations that reflect real-world cognitive challenges. The advantages of this strategy include richer experiences for learners, easier transfer of skills to real-world tasks, and strong performance outcomes.

Authentic activities reflect the on-the-job context
An on-the-job context means that the learner must approach the problem using materials that are common to the environment in which the problem occurs. For example, how do many work tasks get started in today’s companies? If you are a knowledge worker, the problem typically starts when someone sends you an email – asking for your help or delegating a task to you. I call this an authentic situation. The email often contains attachments, such as relevant documents that are required for the task. Other authentic situations include such things as receiving an order, a visit from your manager, or the arrival of a customer. Roger Shank, a professor at Northwestern University, calls these events “cover stories”.

Another element of the on-the-job context are authentic materials. Authentic materials usually include job aids, order forms, customer paperwork, purchase orders, invoices, and so on that carry content that must be analyzed and processed by the learners. However, in this day and age of e-learning, I’ve stretched this definition to include e-learning courses that just so happen to relate to the learner’s task. These courses offer just-in-time knowledge to students as they complete the authentic activities.

Authentic activities integrate core content
Authentic activities don’t mean that designers ignore core content associated with the skills one is learning. Rather, it just means that core content is integrated differently, being subordinate to the learner’s task. Take for example the e-learning program Doctor’s Dilemma. This program teaches health care professionals ethical decision making. The course doesn’t start with a didactic presentation on ethics. Rather, the learner is dropped into the role of a physician, who must make decisions about a case. The content of ethical decision making surrounds the task, and is presented to learners in the form of expert consultants who guide the learner’s decision making process.

Authentic activity assess performance through authentic work products
Every instructional program needs to assess the performance of learners. Authentic activities are no different. But rather than solely relying on multiple choice tests to assess performance, authentic activities integrate authentic work products as part of the assessment. Written documents and PowerPoint files that contain plans, status reports, presentations, analyses, and so on enable the facilitator to provide a rich level of feedback to learners. Additionally, student performance on these materials is sometimes so good that these materials then serve as content for future participants in the course.

I find that when I design courses my learners really appreciate instruction that integrates authentic activities. It forces learners to be more active in their learning and allows them to draw upon their own experience and knowledge to create novel solutions to problems – a key need for adult learners.

For more information about authentic activities, check out these articles:

Until next time,


Dr. Peter HonebeinP.S. Dr. Peter C. Honebein is a DSA Associate and principal of Honebein Associates, Inc. He is the author Creating Do-It-Yourself Customers (Thomson Texere) and Strategies for Effective Customer Education (McGraw-Hill). He also holds academic appointments as adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Business, and the Indiana University School of Education.

Article © 2005 Honebein Associates, Inc

Training Development Tips

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, a DSA newsletter for Instructional Designers and Performance Consultants. Each issue will include at least one proven tip to help you get the most out of your development and consulting efforts.

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