Questions in Support of Authentic Tasks

To incorporate the principles that foster active learning, ask yourself these questions:

1. Learner relevance

  • Who is being taught?
  • Why should the learner care about this?
  • What does the learner already know about this subject?
  • How do the learning goals relate to what the learner knows?
  • How does the learning goals resonate with the learner's culture? 
  • What learning tasks would make these learning goals relevant to the learner?
  • How can I assess the learners prior knowledge and skills to scaffold understanding?
  • How might learning tasks need to change for students with differing sets of prior skills and knowledge?

2. Real-world relevance

  • How is this content useful or applied in the world?
  • Does this content represent the worldview of the learner?
  • What would be an example of this knowledge applied in the world?

3. Ill-defined problem

  • What are the goals for learning?
  • How can the goals for learning be framed around an existing problem that the learner investigates?
  • Does this learning goal lend itself for inquiry?
  • How can this learning goal be framed around an investigation?

4. Sustained investigation

  • Is this subject matter complex and would benefit from a sustained investigation?
  • What are the goals for learning and how can inquiry be used to reach that goal?
  • What will be the product of this investigation be?
  • What diagnostic and formative activities will scaffold and sustain the investigation?

5. Multiple sources and perspectives

  • What kind of content is worth having learners spend their time learning?
  • How can the content be organized around conceptual frameworks and ideas to make it more memorable?
  • What primary/secondary resources exist that the learner can use to investigate this content?
  • Does this subject lend itself for crowd sourcing of opinions, data, solutions to a problem?
  • Does this subject benefit from role-based learning in order for learners to examining evidence, arguments, and claims from multiple perspectives?
  • Who is being taught? What cultural lenses does the student have?
  • What is being taught? What cultural lenses does the content have?
  • Are learner and content lenses at odds with one another?

6. Collaboration

  • Does this outcomes lend itself for collaboration?
  • Does this outcome require that soft skills are fostered?
  • Does this outcome touch on diversity issues and thus learners would benefit from working with others and hearing diverse perspectives?
  • Would this outcome benefit from collaboration?

7. Reflection (metacognition)

  • How can the learner connect what they already know with what they are learning?
  • How can the learner self assess her understanding?
  • How can the learner track his learning?
  • How can the learner communicate his / her understanding?
  • What stereotypes, misconceptions might exist around this subject that need to be dispelled?

8. Interdisciplinary perspective 

  • How does this outcome relate to other topics across disciplines?
  • Are there any 21st Century themes: global awareness, environmental literacy, civic literacy, etc that this outcome can support and connect to?
  • Would the lens of another discipline aid the understanding of this outcome?
  • Does this subject matter / problem lend itself to be investigated across disciplines?

9. Integrated assessment 

  • Is the assessment of learning consistent with the learning goals?
  • What type of project would allow the learner to investigate this subject matter?
  • Can smaller (diagnostic and formative) learning activities be scaffolded into this larger assessment?
  • Does the assessment go beyond an academic task and have value in its own right?

10. Polished products 

  • What product can the learner create that demonstrates his understanding of this outcome?
  • Can developing a product around this outcome help the learner deepen her understanding around this topic?

11. Multiple interpretations and outcomes 

  • Does this outcome encourage choice and application of unique approaches and diverse solutions?
  • Does this outcome benefit from being explored from multiple perspectives?


Darling-Hammond, L., Barron, B., Pearson, P. D., Schoenfeld, A. H., Stage, E. K., Zimmerman, T. D., ... & Tilson, J. L. (2015). Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. John Wiley & Sons.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A practical guide to authentic e-learning. Routledge.Lombardi, M. , Oblinger, D. (2007) Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview.