Authentic-based learning: linking theory to real-life experience by instructional design to promote effective learning

Valda Miller


First year students face an array of challenges in their transition to tertiary education, not the least being large classes and multi-disciplinary curricula that prescribe a broad rather than a deep specificity of content. If students lack the ability to interpret study requirements and are not encouraged to play an active role in their learning processes, they may be overwhelmed, especially if prior knowledge of the discipline is limited or non-existent. At the University of Queensland, most first level biology classes average 800 students from diverse academic and socio-cultural backgrounds, of which 30 – 50% have had no previous contact with the discipline. In response, there have been increased efforts to adapt pedagogical design to respond to the diverse learning needs of this large cohort of students. In an attempt to address these needs, and to establish an environment to promote discipline-specific learning communities, peer assisted study sessions (PASS) have been incorporated within the majority of first level biology courses.

From a theoretical viewpoint, the conversion of information to knowledge in PASS conforms to a social constructivist approach, where optimal development of understanding is facilitated via a socially interactive interchange of ideas with near-peer leaders. Within this student-directed learning environment, leaders are able to identify learners’ knowledge deficits and consequently design instructional tasks to address any conceptually problematic issues. In the translation of theory to pedagogy, if learning comes from a ‘doing’ experience that fits in the framework of existing knowledge and experience, are some instructional designs more effective than others in promoting deep approaches to learning within this environment?

This presentation describes an attempt to identify and evaluate the efficacy of authentically based instructional designs to promote deep learning approaches viz. where students can adopt an active, experiential mode of learning, where students are able to see the relevance of what they are learning, and where information is processed in context and connected to existing knowledge.

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