21st Century “Elevator Answer” Challenge

With all of the talk about Personalized Learning for the 21st Century, I thought this might be a fun challenge and way for all of us to refine our messages and learn from each other.  I am a big believer in making messages simple and accessible, which is why I think this challenge is so relevant.  It’s very easy to kill a good idea with a poorly constructed message, especially early in the implementation/exploration phase.

So….here is your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

“You are attending a conference on 21st Century Learning (yes, I see the irony!)  At the end of the first day you step into the elevator at the hotel in which the conference is being held with someone who is NOT attending the conference and is NOT an educator.  They turn to you, notice your name badge, and say as the doors are closing, “You’re attending that conference on 21st Century Leanring, right? What’s that all about anyway?”

You have 4 floors (3-5 sentences) to explain to this stranger what 21st Century learning is and give one example of what it would look like.  Can you do it?  How would you respond?

Good luck! This message will never self-destruct so send it to every educator you know!!

26 thoughts on “21st Century “Elevator Answer” Challenge

  1. It’s about innovation, experimentation, collaboration, inspiration, and learning.
    It’s about challenging existing beliefs in a way that encourages people to change their existing habits. It’s about being a leader.

  2. It’s about teaching essential skills and knowledge in meaningful, student-centered ways utilizing many tools including technology, and developing students’ ability to communicate, problem solve, work together, and innovate both in and out of the school building.

  3. It’s about students being taught to think and not just know. It’s about using technology to differentiate instruction and track student learning. It’s about collaboration, communication, creation, and sharing with an authentic audience. It’s about the Learners not the Teachers.

  4. 21st Century Learning is helping students learn to use collaborative means to exponentially multiply their knowledge, to develop critical thinking abilities to evaluate information, and to foster communication skills that will allow them to contribute to the global and multicultural collective in a way that demonstrates their individual creativity.

    Is that a run-on sentence that should be made into 5?

    I’m sure the other person got off the elevator on the third floor rolling their eyes at my response.

  5. I wanted to write this before looking at the previous comments, so hopefully I am not repeating too much of what has already been said. Here goes…

    21st century learning is about treating learners as individuals and providing them with authentic learning experiences that are meaningful. It is about leveraging the technology that students are immersed in on a daily basis to create, collaborate, share, and celebrate. 21st century learning can look choatic; students working in groups, teachers as facilitators not as ‘the experts’, mulitiple mentors (other students, teachers, parents, community members, global mentors) and not everyone doing the same thing.

    Now to read those other comments 🙂

  6. The 21st century education will be all about encouraging kids to be curious. To encourage them to explore. To encourage them to make mistakes. To encourage them to apply what they learn in their day to day lives.

    In the 21st century education stellar grades will have no relevance.

  7. Nice challenge, Tom. Taking a deep breath, but still aiming for brevity, I offer …

    21st Century Learning enables students to thrive in these complex, diverse and fast-paced times by de-emphasizing what can now best be done by computers and focussing on what they require to make sense of and contribute to the world around them. Step one is to augment the traditional ‘hard skills’ like literacy and numeracy with the ‘soft skills’ required to use them wisely and well. Step two is to discover and amplify the unique strengths and personal passions of each student so that they learn to think deeply and find joy in learning.

  8. 21st Century Learning is a statement and that the way we currently educate kids is not working. We know so much now about how the brain works, how people learn, and what skills and attributes are truly important.

    A 21st Century classroom looks like this:
    The adults working alongside the students, not at the front of the room, using the best avaialble teaching tools. Kids working together in groups and through play on whatever they are passionate about. Kids learning to learn and learning to work together.

  9. Great comments, I’l try not to be redundant

    21st century learning is interdisciplinary, integrated, connected to community and project based; a curriculum aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems. There is an understanding that in focussing upon process (skill acquisition) as much as product (mandated content) a broader concept of ‘what is to be learned’ will connect a student’s capacities, interests and opportunities to prepare for an ever changing future. The 21st century teacher will not merely ease students into knowing something they don’t know but will challenge them (and in turn be challenged by their own students) to notice in ways they might not have noticed – this is the messy/exciting part.

    I hope the elevator stopped on each floor 🙂

  10. Universals such quality of life, social justice, and sustainability are at the heart of the 21st century skills movement. To nurture these universals, human beings must develop a certain knowledge base in areas like Language Arts, world languages, the arts, mathematics, economics, science, history, etc. However, knowledge is only part of the equation. The skills necessary to improve one’s quality of life, to insure a certain level of social justice and to function in ways which are sustainable are indispensable. Such “21st century skills” include learning and innovation skills, InfoTech skills, and life and career skills. The most effective way for young people to develop these skills is to practice them in areas that they find personally engaging and with experts close at hand to support and guide them.

  11. 21st Century Learning is removing the barriers of learning taking place in certain places, at certain times and in only certain ways. It provides the means for educators and students to facilitate learning in collaborative ways, to foster critical thinking and grow a desire for lifelong learning. It gives every student a voice, every student an identity and every school the ability to reach every student. 21st Century Learning helps students learn and develop the skills necessary be successful in their lives.

  12. It is:

    Students owning their own learning.

    Teaching guiding and supporting the learning.

    Parents as real participants in the learning.

    (I think I have a couple sentenes left over)

  13. Hi Tom.

    I had a decent comment that got wiped out, so now I will try to re-create it.

    Great project. I quite liked Bruce Beairsto’s comment above, and am not sure how much more I have to offer. I will give it a try…

    I think 21st Century Learning is about helping students develop the critical and creative thinking skills needed for them to succeed in a fast-changing world. It involves educators adjusting their practices to better engage students and provide them with more prescriptive feedback for improvement. It also requires helping students uncover their talents, passions and strengths so they will be encouraged to continue their learning beyond their time in school.

    This is a somewhat superficial, and may be slightly repetitive, but it is my 2 cents.

  14. Tom, you’re getting a nice collection! Reading the contributions and thinking about this some more, I wonder if the challenge might be split into three parts – the Why and the What and the How of 21st Century Learning. I think the first can be answered quite succinctly and with a high degree of consensus. The second is a bit more expansive but still reasonably doable. The third, however, is very difficult to compress into an elevator speech because there are so many possible Hows and we have had enough time to find out what works best and develop some consensus about effective practice.

    One further comment. Isn’t it interesting that none of the respondents fall into the trap of suggesting that 21st Century Learning is all about technology! I was honestly surprised, but quite delighted, to see that.

  15. ‘Elevator speeches’ can be effective, but they can also perpetuate superficiality. I worry that the anti-intellectualism endemic to the field of education (as has been discussed by Giroux et al) is partly perpetuated through recourse to ‘accessibility’ and ‘bite-sized’ ideas.

    That aside, I find all the nebulosity over what ’21st-century education’ “means” somewhat curious. How is it that ’21st-century education’ has come to be so porous? What are the horizons which shape the contours of ’21st-century ed’? Where does the narrative find its greatest force?

    To grossly essentialize: the major horizons of 21CL might be said to be the normalization of neoliberal subjectivities; a privileging of skills over content; an attack on the professionalism of teachers; epistemic suicide/genocide; a system of educational policy narratives which reinforce the problematics of pedagogic triage.

    ’21st-century ed’ is a more or less a coherent policy framework. See, for instance, Education 2000 (UK), the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (US), and the 21st Century Learning Initiative (US, Canada). Having some familiarity with these ‘philanthropic’ initiatives, I would contend that ’21st-century education’ is far less pedagogically sound than as represented within the above comments. Rather, I would suggest that ’21st-century ed’ can be construed as another attempt at reifying Bentham/Foucault’s panopticon – it operates as a mode of surveillance for the purpose of constraining the horizons of the possible.

    I would suggest that the ’21st-century ed’ narrative is one to be contested with great passion, because it is not congruent with the exercise of agency, democracy, or community.

  16. 21stC Learning is about instilling the importance of lifelong learning and curiosity in students, and to go beyond knowing and being able to use what is known. Further, it is about empowering young people to be curious and think differently, and to be confident about their uniqueness, and that of others, so they can contribute their perspective to other perspectives and formulate solutions for the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s world.

    I wrote this without reading the other responses. I am anxious now to go and see what other people wrote!

    What a great little assignement!


  17. We are discussing 21st Century Learning and ‘Changes’ within our school district on our pro-d day – and although ‘technology’ isn’t central to the discussion, it may be due to the changes that have led to ‘technologization’ – tech isn’t something special, it is just part of what we do (much like we don’t talk about pens and pencils when talking about writing).
    My elevator ride would focus on how schools are becoming more creative, collaborative, communicative where we are helping students ‘learn’ how to become more agile and adaptable in their own learning (not just stopping when they don’t know what to do next).
    It is about disrupting the way we ‘have’ done education, and acknowledge that schooling needs to look different for the learners OF the 21st Century

  18. Do you mean learning or leanring? I’d hope people would educators and students would check their work more carefully in the 21st century.

    • Do you mean learning or leanring? I’d hope educators and students would check their work more carefully in the 21st century. (Sorry, I should have checked more carefully, like I said.)

      • Interesting to leave a comment about an error… with an error. We always have to remember that blogging is not a final draft nor is it a professionally edited document. Bloggers and ‘commenters’ do their best but we often post blogs with errors. The point of blogging is spreading information and opinions and if you are reading to find errors, then you may be reading for the wrong purpose. Even educators make mistakes…. believe it or not. If you do want writing from Tom that has been edited, you might want to check out his book.

      • Why in the world would you feel compelled to write that one comment 4 months after this was posted?

        Eye wood hope that peepul cood c the big pikcher and not git cawt up in thu litul deetails…something about not sweating the small stuff?

        I would love it if you had something positive to contribute with regards to 21st Century learning….

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