What is 21st Century Learning?

I’ll be working with directors and superintendents this afternoon, from the Greater Essex County School Board, here in Windsor, Ontario. The theme of the entire conference is Vision to Practice, with a little dreaming, believing, and achieving thrown in. One of the agenda’d questions I’ll be asked is, “What is the difference between 20th century learning and 21st century learning?”

It’s one of those sweat questions that you’d love to sink your teeth into, until it’s time to actually munch. I’m going to take a stab at it here, ask you to comment, and hopefully use this blog post as a resource.

One of the hesitations I have about answering this sort of question — especially in front of such a descerning audience, you — is that education is complex. You can’t talk about learning, especially in a single blog post, without some fairly gross generalization. So, with your permission, I’m going to grossly generalize.

First of all, I would characterize formal learning, in the pre-digital/industrial time as:

  • listening,
  • watching,
  • remembering

In a time of information scarcity, when our futures were fairly predictably, being educated was characterised by what you know.

In the digital age, where information is abundant (overwhelming) and the future is always a BIG question, I think that learning expands out of listening, watching, and remembering to include:

  • questioning your learning experience,
  • engaging your information environment,
  • proving (and disproving) what you find,
  • Constructing (inventing) new learning and knowledge [added later]
  • teaching others what you have learned
  • being respected for the power of your learning, and
  • being responsible for your learning and its outcomes [added later]
    [All were reworded 25 aug 2009 mostly as result of comments]

I’ve had to work on the engaging part. It’s a term that I usually do not like to hear. But talking with Doug Peterson last night, over supper, I concluded that when I usually hear the term engage the students, it appears to be a verb that list linked to the teacher — that the teacher’s job is to engage the students. What I like better is to attach the verb to the students. The students will engage with their information environment (textbook, whiteboard, Internet) to learn through questioning, experimentation, discovery, and construction).

So, what do you think?

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.