Real World Learning - Challenge Map

Real World Learning

Real World Learning

The Challenge

Schools want to provide opportunities for students to develop the skills and competencies to prepare them for a productive future. Such opportunities include connecting with students’ lives and interests, and engaging them in solving relevant and authentic problems. Project-based learning, maker learning, and community based learning opportunities are promising, but can be challenging to implement. Additionally, partnerships with local businesses and other community partners can provide service learning, internships, and apprenticeships for students but can be difficult to organize, sustain and scale. For all of these rich real world learning opportunities, it districts are working to ensure that all students have equitable access.

Challenge Stats


Educators responded this challenge is urgent


Educators responded this challenge is widespread


Educators responded their schools have made progress on this challenge

Ideas from the Field

  • Many districts are pursuing partnerships with local business development groups or other state/local organizations that offer apprenticeships. These partnerships allow students to visit, explore, or engage in longer-term apprentice-type programs. Opportunities span a wide spectrum, from students engaged in research with post-doctoral students to students gaining EMT certification to students visiting robotics, optics, fisheries or other local economic drivers.
  • Another district has used summer as a time to provide real world learning opportunities, growing their summer school program from 3,000 to 12,000 students with a partner experience every week in each elementary classroom.
  • Virtual reality is also providing new opportunities for students; while a more costly approach, districts find that exposing students to real places and possibilities through virtual reality beyond the place they live and have grown up opens their minds to all sorts of new options.

In the Words of District Staff

Students need to be able to apply what they are learning to more than just a standardized test. COVID-19 has severely limited any opportunity for real world learning in our district. Every core high-school class is taking place on a platform on which there does not appear to be any real world application.
High school teacher
Spring 2020

“One piece that's really caught our eye here, recently, is our kids are asking for real-world connections to every single course that we're crafting. Asking, for example, “Is there a way for me to go into a hospital and view an open-heart surgery?" as it relates to their biology course. They're looking for learning experiences to be more authentic.”

“We're trying to leverage internships for our students, which I think are super beneficial for kids to get on-the-job experience. We're trying to pressure some of our local businesses to put some skin in the game...We're holding them a little bit more accountable and asking them to give back. If they truly want to create an employable workforce, then what are they going to do to help create opportunities for these students to learn on the job as well?”

“With the focus on PBL, and having the authentic experiences with projects, then how do we find businesses for our teachers to partner with?”


Real World Learning - From Digital Promise's Real World Learning Challenge Collaborative, explore a framework and tools to help you engage students in authentic, relevant problems, projects, and experiences that develop career awareness and readiness.

Project-Based Learning topic page - From Digital Promise, this page provides an introduction and key findings from the research on PBL outcomes and implementation, including links to additional resources.

Maker Learning Leadership Framework - From Digital Promise, this framework helps school leaders create sustainable maker learning programs.

A School Rooted in Real World Learning - From Edutopia, this blog describes a K12 school focused on arts and sciences to foster students’ passions and prepare them for future success.

The Value of Internships: A Dose of the Real World in High School - This article from Mind/Shift illustrates how secondary students can benefit from authentic internship opportunities.

10 Innovations that Support Students’ Community Contributions - From Getting Smart, this blog shares and links to global examples of students making real contributions to their communities.

Sign Up For Updates! Email icon

Sign up for updates!