What does 21st Century Learning Mean?

The phrase “21st Century Learning” seems to be a popular one.  For me it is a bit worrying.  It seems like it could become, if it hasn’t already, a label that can be slapped onto a product or a program to show its currency and relevance.  Note: Google gives almost 12 million results. 

There’s also the phrase “21st Century Skills” which also seems to be getting more popular.  Google gave me less than 2 million results.  On a very simplistic level I could conclude that the Learning is 6x more important than the skills but I don’t think that’s helpful.

Then of course there is “21st Century Technology”.  Here we have 18 million hits.  Technology appears to have pre-eminence over learning and over skills.  Again a very simplistic argument.

Here is the question I want to raise….

What do we mean when we talk about 21st Century Learning?

Are we talking about student ownership of learning? 

  • learners who are active rather passive; who have a sense of agency

About collaboration?  Which is different from cooperation.

About multiple means and modes? 

  • a Universal Design of Learning that accommodates a diversity of learners

About teaching for understanding?

  • with a base of knowledge — but not with knowledge as the end point

Our learning intentions need to have a healthy balance between knowledge, skills, and understanding.  I suggest learning should be guided by essential questions that lead us to enduring understandings.  My UbD influences always bubble out.

Does 21st century learning depend on high-tech? (or can we use low tech to achieve some/many of our intentions)

Nancy Blair gives a thoughtful collection of quotes that I have found helpful.

My hope is that “we” have convergence on the challenges and opportunities of teaching children who are learning & growing is a world that is changing so quickly that it is, in many ways, unfamiliar to many of us.  Yet at the same time, that we recognize that the basic needs of the people have not changed.  My hope is that teachers are supported in becoming 21st learners as they rise with the challenges and opportunities.

My fear is that we walk when we should run — the importance of teachers examining our practice is great; so is our need to collaborate.   My fear is also that we run when we should walk.  Rushing forward with change without first planning carefully and thoughtfully where it is we intend to go.  My fear is that we focus too much on the technological tools and not enough on the learning & teaching tasks that they are meant to serve.

So, what does “21st Century Learning” mean?

Please comment.


About J Martens

Educator living in Vancouver and working in SD37 Delta. Supporting Numeracy while learning how formative assessment, literacy, inquiry, and technology serve to improve learning and increase engagement (for teachers & students).
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2 Responses to What does 21st Century Learning Mean?

  1. Joe Bower says:

    Asking these kind of questions is critical. Without ideology and sound pedagogy, we can justify going in any direction that blows with the wind. Too often these catch phrases are adopted by people who truly have no idea what education should be about.

  2. Joey says:

    I agree. We attach ourselves to what is new and innovative sometimes too quickly. new lingo can often be less defined and change into something that was completely changed from its original intent. Sometimes for the positive and other not always so.

    The World Wide Web was created to communicate and connect different arms of govt. now look at it. Facebook was intended to replace online dating and while. I do not condemn FB it is a tool to which its intend has shifted so dramatically.

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