January 8, 2020

Sparking Deeper Learning Through Authentic, Real-World Experiences

Part 2 of the Deeper Learning Series

Written by Tom Driscoll (@TomDriscollEDU) and Dr. Mario Andrade (@mariojandrade)

This is the second post in a new 4-part EdTechTeacher series focused on Deeper Learning. 

Most of the current research and classroom innovation around deeper learning point to a recurring, if not central theme: authenticity and real-world experience.  Let’s begin with a quick overview of these findings, then dive into practical resources and technologies that can help us enhance authentic experiences to deeper student learning. 

Scott McLeod (Different Schools for a Different World 2018)

One of the “Four Big Shifts” that Scott McLeod references is the need for authentic work. He considers this a “shift from isolated academic work towards environments that provide students with opportunities to engage with and contribute to local, national, and international interdisciplinary learning communities.”  This research also points to authentic, real world learning as one of the ten building blocks of deeper learning schools. Many of the schools and networks highlighted in the book exemplify this approach, such as Iowa Big, Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning, Big Picture Learning, EL Education, High Tech High, and New Tech Network.  

Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine (In Search of Deeper Learning 2019)

One of the key takeaways from this in-depth research is that deeper learning most often occurs when students “play the whole game at the junior level.” During a recent MAPLE Masterclass that included district teams from across Massachusetts, Mehta reiterated this concept throughout the workshop. What he means by this is that students learn deeply when they actually engage in the work of that field, not just learn about it.  For instance, instead of learning about science, engaging in the work of scientists, just at a modified level. Instead of learning about history or civics, engaging in the work of historians or active citizens. He made a great analogy to coaching sports that connected with Tom. For instance, when coaching a youth basketball team, we would not require them to master every basic skill before they played an actual game. They often learn these skills throughout the games, and are often much more engaged than if we spent months (if not years) working on basic skills through drills. What if we applied this concept to core classes throughout the curriculum?  How would that change what the “scope and sequence” would look like in so many of our schools?

Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, Joanne McEachen (Deep Learning: Engage the World, Change the World, 2018)

In this expansive study about the “6 C’s” of deeper learning (Character, Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking), the authors propose several key experiences that foster deeper student learning.  Those that relate to authentic, real-world learning include:

  • Immersion in Addressing Areas of Issues that are Often Cross Disciplinary
  • Active, Authentic, Challenge, and Student Centered
  • Designed to Impact the World, Locally or More Widely
  • Take Place in a Range of Settings   

Also check out XQ SuperSchools: XQ Knowledge Module #7, Networks and Partnerships

Key Resources To Help Design & Facilitate Authentic, Real-World Learning

Real-World Learning Toolkit (Digital Promise) 

All too often in education, we interchange or never define the terminology used throughout our schools. Thus, teachers do not have a clear understanding needed to successfully integrate novel concepts such as Real World Learning or Authentic Learning into their classrooms without feeling overwhelmed. 

So what does Real-World Learning mean?  Over the course of eighteen months, twelve school districts in the Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools embarked on a Challenge Collaborative to define Real World Learning (RWL) experiences and develop a set of tools that can assist other districts as create their own RWL plans.  During that time, Dr. Andrade and the other superintendents, in conjunction with the League of Innovative Schools Leadership team, researched, created, reviewed, and revised the platforms and materials that now comprise the Real World Learning Toolkit.  At the end of the Challenge, it was evident to the districts that each community should adopt a RWL definition that meets their own district and community context. Despite this variance in context, the districts agreed that Real World Learning would increase academic rigor, relevancy, student engagement, student empowerment as well as provide an opportunity to close equity gaps. 

Digital Promise Real World Learning Tools

The Roadmap: Turn-by-turn guidance to the destinations where educators and real world partners meet  

The Roadmap is an interactive tool where educators and community partners can create learning opportunities that are real, relevant and engaging for our students.

[Image Caption: “Interactive Real-World Learning Roadmap”]  

The Builder: Create a strategic framework for implementing real world learning school and district wide.

District and building leaders need a tool to assist them in developing a strategy to make Real World Learning happen. The online “Builder” tool will lead you through a series of activities that will help you assess your current implementation of real world learning in seven key areas and develop a comprehensive framework to lead future learning.

[Image Caption: “7 Pillars of the Strategic Framework for Real World Learning”]  

The Digital Promise RWL tools are a mechanism to strengthen one’s professional learning community and build systems needed to sustain deeper learning.  By utilizing these tools as a collective, the organization comes together under a common vision and collaboratively develops a plan to meet the needs of all members of the school community. Hence, clarity and coherence around deeper learning emerges through these interactive learning experiences. 

Others Resources to Explore


A relatively new resource, Belouga is a platform that enables educators and their students to connect and learn with others through real-world experiences.  Belouga’s creators describe their Deep-Dive series as a way to engage in “real-world learning content sourced from

global organizations, experts and educators, all linked to core subject matter across grade levels… students are able to work with their classmates and peers from around the world, creating… environments that spark curiosity and break down global barriers.”   Belouga also brings together 126 partner organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations to curate and build content, connections, and collaborative experiences for students. Belouga has also built a ‘Continued Learning Communuity” within the platform for educators to learn together and collaborate on experiences in the classroom.  


FlipGrid’s video discussion platform is used by educators across the world to help students connect with experts in the field and engage in other connected learning experiences locally and globally. One way to get started is to find #GridPals, learn more here

Skype in the Classroom

Skype in the Classroom has much more to offer than a random #MysterSkype session.  Educators can access a collection of high quality virtual field trips, access guest speakers, engage in collaborative projects, and participate in live events hosted by renowned experts. 


Nepris is a powerful platform that facilitates real world learning experiences for students by connecting them with industry experts.  What sets Nepris apart is their focus on actively working with companies to help them amplify the impact of their education outreach efforts. 


Created by Big Picture Learning, ImBlaze is a platform that helps students, educators, schools, and industry partners facilitate effective real world learning through high-impact internships.  


You can join Tom in California this January for his Deeper Learning Strand at the upcoming EdTeachTeacher Innovation Summit.  Learn more here! EdTechTeacher.org/california2020