Helping Students Apply Their Knowledge


Students routinely struggle to apply knowledge from the classroom in real-world situations. Authentic assessments can solve the problem at scale by encouraging engaged, critical thinking.

The Knowledge Transfer Problem

For any learner exposed to new concepts or disciplines, it is normal to think of the knowledge they pick up in a narrow way. Core concepts and foundational principles are typically contextualized in a specific domain or use case, and learners are encouraged to apply it to that context. This narrow focus, especially when it comes to assessing students knowledge, may limit a learner’s thinking about alternate application of these core concepts.  A history student studying 14th century Europe and the Black Death may not think long and hard about how the spread of that disease applies to modern day population density, and a classics major studying a Greek tragedy might not link these 6th century themes to contemporary politics. As a negative consequence of the narrow perspective that students are taught and tested on, newly acquired knowledge may be viewed by the student as static and irrelevant to their career aspirations.

Marketing majors and engineering majors, for example, aren’t inherently more valuable than degrees in any other field. They just have an advantage in that their real-world application is more explicit. It’s much easier to craft contemporary, real-world scenarios to test these students and prepare them for the challenges they will face in their chosen careers.

In truth, acquiring knowledge independent of career tracks has just as much capacity to be useful and relevant, but only if educators have the tools to help students cultivate skills to think critically and apply logic and reasoning to real-world problem solving — beyond mere memorization and the occasional essay. There is tremendous potential for a history major to help understand modern day challenges, research effectively, and write convincingly. When students are given the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge beyond its original context, there is no limit to how useful it can be.

A Path to Applying All Knowledge

Traditional studies need to adapt, in terms of how they are taught. When students are trained to see the acquisition of knowledge as information to be memorized for a test, it’s no surprise that they have trouble thinking critically about its wider application. But, the ability to transfer knowledge from one arena to another is, some would argue, a primary objective of higher education.

The first step to successful knowledge transfer is putting students in a position to really comprehend the ideas they are being taught. There is a big difference between “knowing the name of something and knowing something” as Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman put it. When a student’s only objective is to memorize names and dates, it’s much harder to gain an appreciation for the deeper, underlying concepts. And only with that true comprehension can students begin to understand how those ideas might be applied in the real-world situations they will experience when they graduate.

A great way to drive engagement and ensure knowledge transfer is by providing practical examples of how meaningful their studies can be in a variety of contexts. Those concrete cases will help get the juices flowing so that students can come up with ideas of their own. Sometimes it takes just one illustration for students to recognize how valuable the knowledge they are learning can be — in many contexts.

Finally, giving students an opportunity to come together and work out concepts as a group fosters necessary communication and collaboration skills. Rather than simply being fed information, they really have to think critically about the material and communicate their knowledge to build an understanding together. Not only does this strategy aid comprehension, but it also helps transfer one of the most valuable power skills: teamwork.

Enabling Real World Challenges at Scale with Authentic Assessments

The challenge is that these proven approaches to driving relevancy, engagement, and knowledge transfer are often impossible to achieve reliably, at scale, or in the virtual classroom. Imparting deep understanding of subject material is only the first step to applying knowledge. The next and most vital part is to put students in a position to employ that understanding in real-world scenarios. Authentic assessments, aided by data-driven machine scoring make this approach actionable and affordable for any institution.

No matter the field of study they choose to pursue, authentic assessments give students the opportunity to practice how they will use that knowledge in the careers ahead of them. By engaging with real-world scenarios, students can develop and hone valuable power skills like communication, critical thinking, and information literacy. They can see clearly how the skills they’ve acquired transform their use of knowledge and facts beyond the basic parameters of traditional testing. In doing so, knowledge becomes success.

Authentic assessments unlock the potential of every student. They give students the experience and skills to succeed and the motivation to engage at a higher level with their learning. If you want to see how much of a difference authentic assessment can make, reach out to Authess for a demo of our real world assessments.