The Role of Learning Activities and Assessment

The Power of Design

Whereas course content and disciplinary outcomes are givens, it is in the design of learning activities and assessments that educators have the freedom to determine the route the learner will take to achieve an educational goal. Will she listen to a lecture and take a test to show her understanding or will she be presented with a scenario that launches a problem-based investigation into the subject matter requiring her to collaborate with others to solve a problem? Will he perform homework exercises and take a midterm and final exam to demonstrate his understanding, or will he be engaged in an authentic task that has real world relevance and that creates a polished product valuable in its own right? Will she be guided step by step through the learning process via multiple small tasks towards a convergent outcome or will she be engaged in a sustained investigation that requires independent research, and the creation of a media project to communicate her findings? 

The Importance of Creativity

It is in the design of HOW the learner engages with the content towards the achievement of the learning outcome that disciplinary goals can be achieved while also fostering the mega-outcomes known as 21st Century Skills. “The hard parts are, first, determining how these new demands (21st Century Skills) fit in relation to the existing curriculum, second finding ways they can be taught along with content; and then managing the complex process of implementation” (Bellanca, p.x).

We Are All Designers Now

The bad news is that there are no canned solutions to authentic task design. Authentic tasks will not be found at the end of a text book chapter (at least not yet) or incorporated into an online test bank. Instead, they require a customized approach that treats curriculum as a design challenge of identifying the educational opportunities within the unique curricular constraints of an individual course to provide meaningful inquiry into the subject matter tailored to the intended audience. Authentic learning design places the learner at the center around which learning is designed. Here context, not content are king. Thus, the importance of creativity in instructional design to identify where and how to weave inquiry into the curriculum and how to situate the curriculum in the world.

The good news is that it presents educators with a liberating and wonderfully creative challenge, namely to design authentic learning experiences and environments that foster curiosity, engagement, critical thinking and problem solving. To guide the journey, the principles of authentic learning are there to show the way.


Bellanca, J. A. (Ed.). (2010). 21st century Skills: Rethinking how students learn. Solution Tree Press.

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking teaching for the knowledge society. EDUCAUSE review, 37(1), 16-24.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science. building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology.

Laurillard, D. (2013). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Routledge.