Can real-world problem based learning be incorporated into the online classroom?

Kane, M.  (2003).  Linking the real world to the classroom.  GLENCOE Online:  Teaching Today.

Lombardi, M. M.  (2007).  Authentic learning for the 21st century:  An overview.  EDUCAUSE Learning

InitiativeAdvancing learning through IT innovation.

Lombardi argues that “higher education has focused for too long on inculcating and assessing those cognitive skills that are relatively easy to acquire-remembering, understanding, and applying-rather than the arguably more important skills of analyzing, evaluating, and creating” (p. 8).  Much to our dismay, though, students fight this learning environment.  This should come as no surprise, though, as they have been programs by multiple choice exams and, and right and wrong answers, to seek the “right” answer and to lack an understanding of multiple avenues to different results for problem solving (Lombardi, 2007).  But, as noted by Lombardi (2007), in order “to be competitive in a global job market, today’s students must become comfortable with the complexities of ill-defines real-world problems” (p. 10).  If critical thinking skills are essential skills for our students, as educators we must model these skills for our students.  This can be done by incorporating your own practical experience into the classroom and by illustrating different modes of thinking and reasoning in the problem solving process (Kane, 2003).  Kane (2003) suggests gaining a better understanding of why students are there and what their background is in order to better serve them and to better understand what they are looking to take from the class.  This allows you as the instructor to better focus your instruction (Kane, 2003). 

As noted by Lombardi (2007), it is well documented and well understood that learning by doing is most effective.  As noted by Kane (2003), “I believe you understand it when you do it”.  Furthermore, “when the class ends, students should be able to do more than just pass the final test.  They should have gained knowledge in the subject, and they should see how that subject fits into the bigger picture”.  For years this method has been utilized in the traditional face to face classroom setting, and many would question how this form of learning could be transferred to the online classroom.  As noted by Lombardi (2007), by utilizing the online tools available to educators and engaging students in real-world issues of concern to them, educators can awaken authentic learning in their students.  Lombardi (2007) provides a comprehensive review of the latest technological advancements that make learning by doing in the online classroom a reality.  Researchers have found that authentic learning experiences contain the follow design elements:  “real-world relevance, an ill-defined problem, sustained investigation, multiple sources and perspectives, collaboration, reflection, interdisciplinary perspective, integrated assessment, polished products, and multiple interpretation and outcomes” (Lombardi, 2007, p. 3).  As colleges and universities are working to incorporate authentic learning into their classrooms, they are utilizing online tools to bring these learning opportunities to distance learners as well.  As noted by Lombardi (2007), “the value of authentic activity is not constrained to learning in real-life locations and practice, but that the benefits of authentic activity can be realized through careful design of web-based learning environments” (p. 6).  This has been done through the use of simulation-based learning, students-created media, inquiry-based learning, peer-based evaluation, working with remote instruments, working with shared research data, and the utilization of e-portfolios to document and reflect on achievements (Lombardi, 2007). 

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