21st Century Learning…I think?

First, I don’t think anyone can definitively say what 21st Century learning is.  We all think we know what it might be, and in many cases we’re probably right, but we don’t know for sure.  In 1911, did educators really envision the world their students would live in 40 years to the future? How about the world we live in today? Everything put forth here is my first attempt at trying to develop some personal clarity around 21st Century Learning.

The inspiration for this post came from Darcy Mullin’s (@dMully) post entitled, “Inspired by Real Learning.” http://darcymullin.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/inspired-by-real-learning/ and a comment he wrote on my post “What Educators sometimes say…” While commenting on my post, Darcy wrote,

I had a discussion with a colleague today about personalized learning. We were talking about reservations we had about integrating technology into a classroom (IPads, smart boards etc.) until there is a pedagogical shift in the classroom.

So that got me thinking…what should that pedagogical shift look like?  Maybe what we need to do is take the pedagogical logic we have traditionally used and reverse it. Maybe what used to be the means now become the ends?

Our traditional organization put skills (creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, innovation, adaptability) or tools (technology) in service of content outcomes.  Students would be asked, for example, to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to learn the causes of WWI, understand how to add & subtract fractions, or describe the respiratory system.

Maybe students should be asked to do the opposite.  Maybe students should be asked to use curricular content in order to develop their skills.  Instead, maybe they use the causes of WWI, adding & subtracting fractions, or the respiratory system as the means to arrive at the ends of life skills, innovation skills, and technology skills.  Maybe developing student capacity with the use of technology is now the end result of discovering how the Ancient Romans lived.  This might allow our students to draw from cross-curricular sources to see and/or create the bigger picture.

21st Century learning is hard to define, but maybe we’re not supposed to define it.  Yes, we have to have some kind of roadmap, but maybe we’re not supposed to be able to pin it down.  Maybe that’s the point.  If we fully define 21st Century learning we limit it.  A definition inherently includes what it is and what it is not which creates limits.  Maybe it’s the limits of our traditional curriculum that is responsible for the fixed mindset about learning that has been so prevalent.

Maybe the adaptability, creativity, and innovation are what will prepare our students for an unknowable future. Rather than defining it maybe we should just be ready for it.

I don’t know…maybe I’ll change my mind in a week…maybe that’s the point!

4 thoughts on “21st Century Learning…I think?

  1. A thought provoking post. My worry is that the idea of “21st century learning” devolves into nothing more than educational jargon. A new coat hanger to hang old practices! I am already hearing some say that personalized learning is really differentiated instruction.

    Your question “maybe what used to be the means now become the end?” is a great one. It causes the shift in thinking that is required (dare I say paradigm shift).

    • Thanks for your comment Johnny. I think what I would say is that personalized learning is not differentiated instruction, but that differentiated instruction is part of personalized leanring…it’s just incomplete. If almost everyone was differentiating their instruction we would see a much higher rate of success, especially for our marginalized learners. I don’t think we are clear if we mean the same thing when we say “Personalized Learning” and/or “21st Century Learning.” these might be two different concepts that can certainly work in harmony. Definitely lots of jargon out there…we have to stay true to the fundamentals of good teaching and learning!

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  2. I believe that essential questions are at the center of all good learning: What are the essential questions we want students to explore?

    Using essential questions as the content focus, then we need to teach students how to approach questions: For example if an essential fourth grade question is “Why is it important to preserve our natural resources? How can we preserve natural resources?”

    Then the learning can take the following shape:
    1. Prior Knowledge: What do students already know about this – discussion, charting, blogging, etc.
    2. Determining Purpose: Why and how are we going to explore this question and share our findings.
    3. Making a Plan and Following it: How do we plan to learn about this – what skills do we need to use, what resources, what’s our time line like? Stopping to share along the way, revising the plan when necessary.
    4. Sharing our Knowledge: Presenting our knowledge with words, numbers, images to audiences. Getting feedback. Making decisions about next steps.

    • Thanks Maureen. I like the idea of anchoring around essential questions; questions that ask an overarching question on some Big Idea that the students can then use curricular content to drill deeper. The four steps you’ve outlined also make a lot of sense. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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