The cornerstones of 21st century learning
When it comes to 21st century learning, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this new approach to education isn’t just changing the way that students learn, but the way that educators teach. For centuries, teachers and school administrators have used a combination of tools to prepare students for life beyond the classroom. Schooling itself relied on a specific set of cornerstones of learning: instruction, curriculum, assessment and environment. While this is still very much the case today, the approach taken has completely transformed.
Perhaps one of the greatest ways that 21st century learning has impacted education is by shifting the role of teachers in the classroom. The previous approach had teachers standing in front of a room and doing what they could to impart wisdom on students. They played a critical role in delivering new information to students and educating them about the ways of the world and the knowledge they would need to navigate it.
Today, teachers no longer operate in a vacuum. The advent of the Internet brought endless amounts of information to students’ fingertips, both inside and outside the classroom. As a result, the role of the teacher has shifted. Rather than acting as a lecturer, teachers have taken on the role of facilitators of learning. Many use blended learning models of instruction, in which the traditional methods are supplemented with the use of technology. Students are encouraged to explore and teachers and adaptive learning programs are there to work together and help them develop higher order thinking skills.
Curricula, too, have shifted dramatically in the 21st century. While core subjects like English, math, social studies and science are still very much present, others are being integrated into instruction. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, global awareness and civic, health, environmental and financial literacy must also be a part of curricula if students are going to be prepared to take on modern-day careers.
In addition, the approach to curricula has shifted in the last 10 years. It is designed to foster the skills of lifelong learning in students. They need to be able to think creatively and critically, and to have the tools they need to be great innovators. Curriculum is no longer about memorizing a series of facts, it’s about preparing students to function successfully in an increasingly complex world.
While assessment has very much been a part of the U.S. education system for decades (who doesn’t remember filling out endless Scantron forms during their years in school?), the approach has changed considerably. Data-driven decision making in schools requires teachers and administrators to have the most up-to-date and accurate information about student learning as possible.
Some schools have turned to adaptive learning systems to accomplish this task because the programs can collect information about the way that students learn – the areas in which they excel and those where they struggle – in real time. Teachers can then use that data to help students truly understand the information they need to know in order to do well on state and federal standardized tests.
The final cornerstone of 21st century learning is environment. Classrooms must be structured in a way that facilitates intellectual exploration and helps students learn relevant, real-world skills. Whether it is through the completion of projects or time spent developing research skills on the computer, classroom environments are designed to cultivate in students the abilities they will need outside of the classroom. Above all, this means giving equitable access to technology, which plays a huge role in the 21st century workplaces for which they are preparing.
How have you seen education change in the 21st century? Share your thoughts with us!