12 Ways Technology Can Support Authentic Learning

Students using technology in the classroom

From our Educator Guest Blogger Series

Students and Technology

The Pew Research Center reports that 95% of teens own a Smartphone and roughly half of those students admit being online “almost constantly.” Kids today aren’t just using cell phones, these devices are becoming an extension of their self as they create and consume content with sites such as YouTube and Instagram, connect and share with others through Social Media such as Snapchat and Twitter, or engage in role-playing and experiences through games like Fortnite. As students increasingly rely on technology in their day-to-day life outside of the classroom, teachers need to embrace technology that encourages students to create, consume, connect, share, and experience learning in the classroom in an authentic way.

Why Authentic Learning?

Students are growing up in a world where information is just a few clicks away. Employers aren’t looking for employees that have the answers, they are looking for people that can interpret and use information to solve complex problems. Authentic learning prepares students for a future career through practice of the real-world problem solving skills used by professionals in the workplace. In an article from the Journal of Authentic Learning, Audrey Rule of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego defines these four themes of authentic learning:

  1. An activity that involves real-world problems and that mimics the work of professionals; the activity involves presentation of findings to audiences beyond the classroom.
  2. Use of open-ended inquiry, thinking skills and metacognition.
  3. Students engage in discourse and social learning in a community of learners.
  4. Students direct their own learning in project work.

Real-World Problem Solving

When students understand the real-world connections to what they are learning, they are more likely to be engaged and less likely to question the significance of classroom learning. Technology helps to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world by providing access to information in a variety ways and through different perspectives:

1.  In a Netflix and YouTube world, digital media can make a great “hook” to a lesson and frame the context of learning. Check out PBS LearningMedia, Smithsonian Channel, TedED, The Kid Should See This, or CNN 10 for fast-paced videos that will encourage your students to think about a problem.

2.  Doing is learning and doing through virtual experiments and experiences is less messy, less costly, and provides students with the ability to “reset” the activity and learn again. Try PhET Simulations, ExploreLearning Gizmos, PBS LearningMedia Interactive Lessons, or EduMedia for a virtual, “hands-on” activity.

3.  A powerful way to connect classroom content to the real world is to hear from experts on how they use math, science, or writing in their careers. Skype in the Classroom provides an easy way for educators to find and connect with experts, take virtual field trips, or connect with other students from around the world.  

4.  Images can invoke powerful insight, inspiration, and discussions. Use images from PBS LearningMedia, NY Times Picture Prompts, Facing History, or Teachstarter Visual Writing Prompts to create a learning walk or to jumpstart your classroom discussions.

Inquiry, Thinking Skills, and Metacognition

In an authentic learning environment, students have time for sustained inquiry. They must define the problem, gather and investigate resources, evaluate information, and ask questions to develop a solution. Here are some resources that will help your students to discover answers beyond “googling”:

5.  Research tools can provide students with access to data that is used by professionals and researchers. Google is great, but try some of these other tools for targeted information: PBS LearningMedia for the best educational content from award winning series such as NOVA, Frontline, and Sid the Science Kid, Google Scholar for professional journals and case law, NewspaperArchive for news articles from 1736-present, or The National Archives for primary source documents.

6.  Online, interactive lessons can help students to learn at their own pace and provide a non-threatening environment to practice the skills students need to solve problems. Free lessons on PBS LearningMedia Interactive Lessons or Khan Academy can provide content knowledge and immediate feedback for students.

7.  Provide learner-centered instruction with a platform like Nearpod or TES Teach. Create an immersive and authentic learning opportunity for your students that can be viewed at their own pace and that include various forms of media and opportunities for students to collaborate.

8.  Online collaboration tools such as Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Padlet, or Trello will give your students a space to plan their project, gather resources, and manage their group work.

9.  Virtual reality is an immersive experience that tricks the senses and puts the learner in a realistic, but virtual location. Google Expeditions has a variety of virtual learning experiences that will engage students in an environment that replicates a real-world visit to another location and provides another perspective to learning about a place or environment.

Students Engage in Discourse with a Community of Learners

Authentic learning empowers students to be confident learners that can share ideas, evaluate information, develop their thinking and reasoning skills, and reflect on content. These resources will provide a platform for students to practice discourse:

10.  Encourage students to evaluate information with NowComment. This is a powerful platform to have conversations around any piece of information. The teacher or student can upload a document, story, poem, image, or video and have an annotated conversation to evaluate and reflect upon the meaning or value of the information.

11.  Empower your students to share their opinions and ideas with Flipgrid, a discussion board that allows students to respond to their instructor’s questions by recording their answer in a 90-second video. Students and teachers can also provide feedback to one another, which encourages rich and meaningful conversations.

12.  Social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook can, when used within the guidelines of your district, provide valuable connections to people and resources outside of your community. Educators are learners too. If you need to strengthen your social media skills, try taking a course through Udemy.

Students Direct their Own Learning

Authentic learning empowers students to be self-directed learners. This process engages students through challenges, solving problems, and making real-world connections to the content. It changes a fixed student mindset to more of a growth mindset and emboldens students to see how their own skillset can help them to succeed. Authentic learning provides practice with tools and resources that will benefit the student in their future endeavors.

Keep in mind that as you try new tools or resources, that technology should support your students’ learning. Don’t use a tool for the sake of integrating technology if that tool doesn’t help your students to be more efficient or effective. Find one or two key resources to begin using and then add in more technology resources as you and your students become more proficient in their use.


For 22 years, Karen Ogen has inspired educators and leaders to infuse effective pedagogy and authentic learning into their instructional and professional practices through relevant and innovative ways. She has supported students through her roles as an Administrator, Magnet Coordinator, and Instructional Technology Specialist. She has created many resources for educators including her personal blog and website, Interactive Sites for Education (weebly.interactivesites.com), which is used by thousands of elementary school students each day. Karen is proud to be a National Board Certified Teacher, a PBS Digital Innovator, a Discovery Education Guru, and a presenter at virtual, state, and national conferences. She holds two Masters Degrees, one in Technology Integration and the other in Educational Administration. Follow Karen on Twitter @karenogen.


  • http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
  • https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/effectsstudents.html
  • https://www.thetechedvocate.org/engage-digitally-distracted-students/
  • https://www.lexialearning.com/blog/creating-authentic-learning-experiences-literacy-classroom
  • http://edtechreview.in/news/865-how-technology-can-support-authentic-learning
  • https://www.ernweb.com/educational-research-articles/the-four-characteristics-of-authentic-learning/
  • https://dspace.sunyconnect.suny.edu/handle/1951/384


Note: This guest blog does not necessarily reflect the views of ETV Education.