21st century learning

Things are changing around us very dramatically, very quickly. The world is becoming more interconnected, the environment is becoming less stable, and technology is continuously altering our relationship to information. Changing global conditions demand that we rethink what, but even more important, how and where we learn. We need education for the 21st century.

But what do we mean by 21st century education? The following are what we believe to be their characteristics:

Students learn through meaningful projects

When students design, plan, carry out, and publicly exhibit a project of genuine value (to themselves, to the community, or to a client), it has a transformative effect on their perception of themselves, their relationship to learning, and their sense of their place in the world around them. It is also the best way to develop the diverse portfolio of skills that that are increasingly in demand from employers.

School is a ‘base camp’ for enquiry

Now that many mobile phones can access more information than is held in any library, the idea of school as the place you go to acquire knowledge is an anachronism. However, schools still have an important role to play as the ‘base camp’ for enquiries that will take students into their communities, and online.

Educators regard themselves as learners as well as teachers

An interest in learning is the key characteristic that teachers share with their students, and teachers need to be able to conduct action research and be aware of developments in their field, in order to develop their practice (and share it with their colleagues).

Learners collaborate in their learning, rather than ‘consuming’ it

Students are experts in their own learning – they know how they learn best, and what they are most interested in, and schools stand to benefit from working with them rather than performing for them. In other words, rather than trying to put on a fancier show for their students, teachers should let them backstage.

Education takes advantage of digital technologies and helps students become both digitally literate and digitally adept

Attentive readers may be noticing that there is nothing ‘new’ about the preceding characteristics of 21st century education. These ideas are at least 100 years old - John Dewey is probably their most famous advocate, though they go back much further. However, digital technology has made this vision more attainable, for more people, than ever before. It has also vastly increased the number of education providers that a learner can choose from. Schools no longer have a monopoly on ‘academic’ learning, and if they do not adapt, the world may simply leave them behind.

Read our publications, 10 Schools for the 21st Century and 10 Ideas for 21st Century Education, for more information about 21st century education, including examples of how these work in practice.

To find out more about how we can support your school to deliver 21st century education click here.