Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Biggest Barrier to Real Learning

David Geurin shared 7 Ways Tech Transforms Learning. The first reason, authentic audience, is the single biggest barrier to learning that is relevant, real, and innovative. David says this:
It's really sad that most work students do in school ultimately ends up in a trash can. The audience for their efforts is usually the teacher and maybe their classmates, but rarely is work shared beyond the school walls. By using digital tools it is possible to share work to a potentially unlimited audience, and it's possible to curate the work so it's available forever. Say goodbye to the trash can finish. 
When students work for an authentic audience, it is potentially a game changer. Instead of just completing assignments in a manner that is "good enough" they now want the work to be just plain "good." And how the work is received can provide excellent feedback. An authentic audience multiplies the possibilities for feedback. As any blogger can attest, having an audience changes everything, and really makes you think about your ideas
Geurin is right. but even those schools and individuals who are trying to have students create for an authentic audience often are not getting it right. 

Here's why:

Published does not  authentic audience
Some schools / educators think they have this covered by merely having students post work in a public place. Just sharing work on YouTube, a school blog, a platform like Google Classroom, Edmodo, or other online space, is not necessarily going far enough for reaching an intentional authentic audience. It is simply publishing without proper thought going to who the right audience might be for the work. An authentic audience must be located and the platform and/or places they go to find information must be determined.  

Example: Students create Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that address the problem of litter in the community and want to encourage others to reduce, reuse, recycle.  They make the PSAs and publish them on YouTube and Vimeo. While someone may see those videos, there is no intentional thought to the audience. These two big questions are ignored:
  1. Who do you want to see this PSA.  
  2. How are you going to get this PSA in front of them.  
The answer in this case are local community members.  

The first thing students can do is research where PSA's are generally published for an audience and investigate the process via interviews.  They might consider the following:

  • How do you get a PSA on television or radio?  
  • Is there a format or length for each medium? 
  • How can a PSA get listed in the online version of the local paper?  
  • Is there an environmental group that might be interested in sharing the PSA on their website? 
  • Can the school share this on their website? 
  • Can the school work with the district to publish this on a district website?  
  • Can there be a contest in the community to bring attention to the issue?  

There is a lot that can be done when we start looking at authentic audiences. This often forgotten piece is essential to the learning process.

Manufactured audience does not  authentic audience
At some schools, they may put together a panel to evaluate student work and think the job of publishing to an authentic audience is done. This is often what happens in Performance Based Assessment schools.  While the students worked on a project, created a presentation, and had an audience someone put together for them, there are many problems with this strategy. 
  1. The emphasis is on assessment, not real work for a real audience.
  2. The students usually have no say in the audience.
  3. The audience the project should really have been created for is often missing. 
  4. The intent is evaluation of the students and is over when the evaluation is over.
If the work was real work for an authentic audience, this would look different. 

That panel mentioned above would be brought into the process early on. They would be partners in bringing the project to life. In fact, rather than evaluators, the audience would become part of the student's learning network and/or mentors who guide along the way and have a stake in the student's success.  

In the PSA example above, the way this could become authentic is this. 

The student has been working under the guidance of panel members to create the PSA. There has been ongoing dialogue and communication.  They have also worked with members to create a campaign. The presentation is the time to view and celebrate the final PSA along with the campaign strategy. Panel members give feedback into the strategy and determine the role they will play.  

Wondering what this really looks like in practice?  Here are two examples:
  1. Second grade students discover tourism is suffering in their town. They explore all the wonderful things in their community and make an interactive multimedia presentation that they Tweet out to a targeted audience and have featured on the tourism bureau’s Facebook Page and website to help attract tourists to their city.  Read more here.  
  2. Fifth grade students tackle the issue of sustainability. Their strategy to improve sustainability in the community is to educate and encourage businesses in the community to be a part of the solution. To do that students learned what businesses could do to be sustainable and created brochures that included concrete advice. Students presented and distributed the brochures to businesses. To hold businesses accountable, students created an honor roll of businesses following those practices that was published on the town website in printed in public places and they provided badges of sustainability to those who met their criteria.
    Read more here.
Authentic audience is one important part of the equation when it comes to preparing today's students for success. Geurin's infographic below outlines six additional considerations. 

Check it out and then share how you are working to transform learning where you work.


  1. What a valid point! This is something I would like to see change as technology continues to be integrated into education. Students tend to take more pride in work when they can take ownership for their efforts.

    More often than not, students tend to do work well enough to call it "complete". I often wonder if asked, if a student could actually say they were proud of their finished product.

  2. What a valid point! This is something I would like to see change as technology continues to be integrated in education.

    Students tend to take more pride in their work when they are able to take ownership for their efforts. More often than not, students will do work well enough to consider it "complete". However, I often wonder, if asked, if students could say it was work they were proud of.