21st Century skills-ww4

This week’s activity had us compare present day education to the way we were taught and then make predictions about how learning will need to change in the 21st century. This assignment made me reevaluate my own education and the way in which I teach my students. I found that many of the so-called new approaches to teaching were really examples of older theories delivered using modern devices. That being said, I feel that these technologies can help us develop new and innovative ways of approaching education.

My early education was primarily the result of a behaviorist approach, with an emphasis on knowledge as the memorization of facts. Looking back, much of the learning activities would have ranked low in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The thinking at the time was that most students would remain in one career throughout their life. As I moved into secondary and postsecondary education, not unexpectedly, the focus became more cognitivist and constructivist and activities moved up to Bloom’s higher levels. My undergraduate degree was earned at the early stages of the computer revolution, where access to information and technology was miniscule compared to today (paper journals, presentations with actual slides and gps coordinates that needed to be rectified). Did the lack of technological resources result in less rigorous coursework or skills that are not applicable to today’s world? I would say no, while the tools themselves became outdated, the skills transcended new technologies that have come and gone.  I believe that the theories and models of the past still have relevance in modern education, though perhaps certain skills need a greater emphasis than they have in the past.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2013) states that to “navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age’ students need to develop “flexibility and adaptability’. I would suggest that these characteristics as examples of career and life skills have been critical at all times in human development and are not exclusive to today’s environment. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2013) lists the “3R’s’ and the 4 C’s (Creativity and Innovation, Critical thinking, Communication and Collaboration) as  “the skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.’ But are these skills any different than those that would have been necessary at other times in history? Is it the rate of change rather than change itself, that we need to better prepare students to adapt to and how does one teach adaptability and flexibility?

While past theories are still relevant, I do feel there are certain areas where we can focus greater attention and improve upon learning so it is more relevant to our changing environment.  I would agree with Brown’s (2006) suggestion that we must focus on the students “capacity for independent learning, since they are likely to have multiple careers and will need to continually learn new skills they were not taught in college’. There are nearly endless opportunities for continuous education today. The ability to quickly navigate to videos, forums and even formal online courses makes it much easier to learn new skills and keep skills current. Brown (2006) suggests that education must take a new approach where  “the focus in education moves from building up stocks of knowledge (learning-about) to enabling students to participate in flows of action, where the focus is on learning through en-culturation and on collateral learning. I would also agree that en-culturation and collateral learning can raise the knowledge of both the individual and the group, creating collective growth. While this is an important characteristic of future learning, I would suggest that en-culturation and collateral learning have been part of our educational system in the past. I believe that higher education has allowed for much of this type of learning, but perhaps we have been cautious in applying the same methods in the K-12 arena. Brown (2006) describes expert gamers as having the following characteristics: “being extremely good at pattern recognition, sense-making in confusing environments, and multi-tasking’. All characteristics we might consider indicators of success in most careers.  He also stresses the importance of learning how to effectively communicate in today’s world of shortened attention spans by “using image, text, sound, movement, sequence, and interactivity?’ I would argue that while good pattern recognition and communication have always been important, the tools used to do so have evolved.

I am not sure that our response in education has been able to keep up with this changing environment. Mazur’s (2012) classroom is a good example of how to use peer interaction to create whole classroom engagement and promote collaboration. This type of peer instruction is fairly common place at the secondary level, but in an age where self-instruction is becoming more of the norm, is it still valuable? The Khan Academy also blends traditional learning theory and practices with modern technology. I think that the Khan Academy provides a valuable resource for continuous education, but I don’t think that the methods employed are new or revolutionary. They have added learning badges recently as a game based motivational strategy, but I think that it does not emphasize the 4 C’s of interactivity that one might expect in a 21st century learning platform. These are both steps towards changing the learning landscape, but they do not seem to move out of the realm of what is already common place.

Works Cited

Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change, 38(5), 19—24.

Khan, S. (2014). Khan Academy. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from https://www.khanacademy.org

Mazur, E. (2012). Eric Mazur shows interactive teaching. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wont2v_LZ1E&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2013). Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from https://www.p21.org


1 thought on “21st Century skills-ww4

  1. Owen

    Good points, Jenny!
    When is “think, pair, share” a bad idea? When is peer-based learning effective, and when is it a mistake? My daughter came home from school yesterday with full credit but the wrong answers on her math homework. Turns out she and a friend did the “think, pair, share” homework correction thing in class – but they both had the same wrong answers.
    Khan Academy is pretty amazing. I think economic pressures may make this type of systemized math education the norm…it wouldn’t surprise me much if soon nearly all math education takes place within a Khan like system.


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