Authentic Task Principles

Learning researchers have distilled the essence of the authentic learning experience down to 10 design elements, providing educators with a useful checklist that can be adapted to any subject matter domain.

1. Real-world relevance

Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulas inside a realistic— and highly social—context mimicking the ordinary practices of the disciplinary culture.

2. Ill-defined problems

Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the major task. 

3. Sustained investigations

Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources. 

4. Interdisciplinary perspectives 

Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms. 

5. Collaboration

Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world. 

6. Reflection (metacognition)

Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community. 

7. Articulation

Learning activities enable preentation and defense of arguments.

8. Integrated assessments 

Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes. 

9. Polished products 

Conclusions are not merely exercises or sub-steps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right. 

10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes 

Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.

11. Multiple sources and perspectives

Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process. 


Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic learning environments in higher education. IGI Global.

Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks. In world conference on e-learning in corporate, government, healthcare, and higher education (Vol. 2006, No. 1, pp. 3164-3173).

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational technology research and development, 48(3), 23-48.

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1).

Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A practical guide to authentic e-learning. New York: Routledge.