When a learner is in an environment that is relevant to what's being learnt, the likelihood for effective engagement is high. Learning by doing is supposed to be one of the most successful ways to learn.
Both these factors – the relevant environment and the doing – are thought to provide jointly the greatest incentive for a learner to take interest in what is to be learnt. They form the basis for what is referred to as authentic learning.
For as difficult as such situations are to establish and sustain in face-to-face situations, elearning environments can present major barriers to authentic learning that are almost impossible to overcome unless the elearning vehicles are in situ.
Typical examples of these are online tutors for word processing, graphics applications or other computer functions where the learner is involved in using mouse and keyboard to operate a tutorial directly relevant to the application.
I cite the Southern Hemisphere planisphere with a built-in tutorial as one example of an in situ learning vehicle in a junior Science elearning resource.
The examples given above are all very well, but unless a considerable component of what is learnt is transferable to other purposes, the learning acquired by the learner has limited use elsewhere. One of the characteristics of authentic learning is the transferability of the learning to other situations or disciplines.
Two examples where generic and transferable skills can be learnt are online instruction in touch-typing, and the use of a flight simulator as part of training to become an aircraft pilot.
Kallan and Tuxedo presenting a session in building in SL
Recently I was privileged to share in the facilitation of a session sponsored by ISTE, teaching people online to manipulate and assemble prims, the building blocks of Second Life (SL).
As well, part of the duties I perform as an ISTE docent in SL involves assisting and teaching newcomers to that environment by the use of text and voice chat. The learning facilitated in these situations is authentic.
People who come into SL need to acquire new skills. Most who stay to use that environment want to learn skills that can only be acquired online. But other than exercising skills in associated disciplines such as art and design, the skills I teach to newcomers are only useful in Second Life. And here is the conundrum associated with authentic elearning.
Apart from learning that is directly associated with the elearning application or platform, how is authentic learning achieved online?