Saturday, 18 May 2013

Clarifying the Shifts in 21st Century Learning

It seems like everyone is talking about 21st century learning, but clarity on the distinctions between education in the past and education in the present is often muddled. Many people are also annoyed by the description of 21st century learning since we are more than a decade into the 21st century. As long as education settles on a bloated list of content and skills in predictable approaches to teaching and learning, it will always be outdated. Instead the conversation needs to shift to core areas of learning for success now, and dispositions for learning that will prepare students for success in the future. Given this, here are a few of the distinctions between what education has been and what education needs to be:
  1. Previous emphasis on what and how the teacher is teaching, and current emphasis on what students are really learning
  2. Previous emphasis on the student as a passive recipient, and current emphasis on the student as an active co-designer in learning
  3. Previous emphasis on the teacher as disseminator of prescribed content, and current emphasis on teacher as a facilitator of "big ideas" and transferrable concepts
  4. Previous emphasis on a one-size fits all "standardized" approach to learning, and current emphasis on differentiated and personalized learning to meet the needs of all students
  5. Previous emphasis on learning as an individual experience, and current emphasis on self-directed and collaborative learning
  6. Previous emphasis on a narrow definition of communication as usually limited to writing and sometimes speaking, and current emphasis on a full range of communication, artistic, and media approaches
  7. Previous emphasis on textbooks, and current emphasis on multiple resources (including primary sources) of study that make fuller use of technology and digital tools
  8. Previous emphasis on prescribed activities and worksheets, and current emphasis on students as critical and creative thinkers in their own learning
  9. Previous emphasis on summative testing, and current emphasis on formative types of assessment to better ensure learning progress and also including student self-assessment within the learning process
  10. Previous emphasis on right-wrong answers and singular approaches for obtaining answers, and current emphasis on problem-based learning that demonstrates greater complexity of thinking and learning
  11. Previous emphasis on grades, and current emphasis on growth, learning, and goal-setting
  12. Previous emphasis on decontextualized learning, and current emphasis on authentic learning within real world contexts
  13. Previous emphasis on a nationalistic brand of education, and current emphasis on an engaged global and multicultural approach to education
  14. Previous emphasis on a defined and set curriculum, and current emphasis on curriculum being collaboratively shaped by student interests, talents, curiosities, and passions
  15. Previous emphasis of the school as the exclusive place for learning, and current emphasis of the 24/7 world as an "open space" for learning (with technology as a key facilitative learning tool)
  16. Previous emphasis of time as the determiner for teaching, and current emphasis on flexibility of time to appropriately support the learning of the learner
  17. Previous emphasis of teachers working in isolation, and current emphasis on teachers in Professional Learning Communities or teams to understand and improve student learning
  18. Previous emphasis on students meeting adult expectations, and current emphasis on students discovering and developing their own unique identity and authentic voice
If we aren't aware of the shifts between the past and current needs of education, then we'll likely get caught in how we've always done things. Each shift requires awareness and development of new beliefs, dispositions, and skills. Each shift requires continual inquiry as to how to most powerfully support learning for all students for success today and for tomorrow. A compelling school vision provides urgency and coherence for these various approaches to be realized.

These are not simply switches that are turned off and on, but rather require evolution of beliefs, dispositions, and skills by educators through active dialogue and engagement in these approaches. In the end, we know that culture always trumps strategy, and therefore helping all stakeholders to understand the "why" for changes and also offering varied and ongoing support for success are essential. It is the cultivation of a school-wide culture that embraces change, innovation, and ongoing research and development that will lead to bolder opportunities for students. 

1 comment:

Jay said...

Recently, Dean Shareski wrote a
post on Google+ saying that teachers "need to be mentors, expert learners and connectors." I'm really drawn to the idea of the teacher as an expert learner. I think that all too often teachers forget that the reason they got into teaching was that they loved learning about something...math, literature, Italian, whatever. We need to rekindle that passion for our own learning rather than just the love of teaching. The most successful teachers I have seen are those that continue to push themselves and learn. We may forget the joy that comes from learning something new. Just watch an early childhood classroom. The excitement of finally learning how to write their name or solve a puzzle is energizing. Do we see that same level of excitement when a high school student finishes their biology project? I rarely see it.

I think if we can position ourselves as master learners then that joy of learning is more easily transfered to the students.