Authentic learning is learning in the "real world". It focuses on authentic deeds and students get to solve complex problems and find their solutions using a variety of activities like: role-playing, case studies, and collaborative peer learning. Authentic learning is idiosyncratic in its nature in that the setting where it takes place is multidisciplinary. In other words, the learning environment can be accommodated to foster different learning events.
Now with the widespread of web technologies, more and more environments for authentic learning have been created. Think of the virtual learning communities or what James Paul Gee called affinity spaces. These are ideal places where learners become "cognitive apprentices" to experts in the field. In this sense, to learn Math, for instance, students need to apprentice themselves to mathematicians. Not only that, they also need to take on another identity different from theirs which is that of the mathematician, the same applies to learning in other content areas.
Learning researchers have distilled the essence of authentic learning down to 10 design elements, here is a quick overview of these elements and you can check out this wonderful white paper if you want to go into details :
Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic— and highly social—context mimicking “the ordinary practices of the [disciplinary] culture.”
2- Ill-defined problem:
Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.
3- Sustained investigation:
Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.
4-Multiple sources and perspectives:
Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.
Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.
Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.
Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.
Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.
9- Polished products:
Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.
10-Multiple interpretations and outcomes:
Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.