21st Century Learning is offering unique challenges to teachers. The skills people need now to succeed in the globalised world are vastly different to even a decade ago. This ideal was true before Covid-19, and it seems even more critical in the aftermath.
How do we best prepare people?
One way is to base education on a set of identified 21st Century Learning Skills. We recently passed the rigorous MCE (Microsoft Educators Certification)to emphasise how we embed these skills in our lessons and courses.
Reading the material from Microsoft can be a little technical and overwhelming, so here is an easy-to-read guide of what this means
21st Century Learning
Microsoft built their curriculum based on the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) project. This research identified six areas of learning that are important for the current era:
- Skilled communication
- Knowledge construction
- Real-world problem-solving and innovation
- Use of ICT for learning
Let us look at each of these in turn and give some inspiration for incorporating them in your lessons.
We live in a globally connected world, but do we collaborate? People are currently “connecting” with people through social media but are they “collaborating”? Are they building shared understandings? Making their voices heard? Changing their world? A lot of social interaction is low-level “reacting” to or “sharing” media rather than collaborating with a broader network.
We need to develop an understanding of what it means to collaborate. What are the skills required for effective collaboration? These could include negotiation, conflict resolution, distribution of tasks and listening. These skills do not always happen naturally in lessons; we need to design a curriculum to offer students opportunities to practice.
Collaboration in Practice
To truly collaborate, students need to:
- Work together in pairs or groups.
- Have shared responsibility. i.e., do more than help each other.
- Make decisions together about the process or final product.
Collaboration in an online environment is tricky, but also, we are fortunate to live in an era with the technology that can enable this.
We have designed our resources to allow our students to collaborate. In our resource library, you will find many activity packs that you can use at home or with your students in class.
Today we live in a society where the internet provides us with opportunities to connect with people worldwide. The internet and mobile phones have revolutionised how people, of all ages, communicate but do we do it well?
Unfortunately, we often use these powerful tools to engage in low-level “chatter”, where people send single texts or tweets on unrelated topics. People could use these tools for far-reaching communication to engage in more in-depth conversations with others about an international issue, such as global warming or warfare.
Communication does not even have to be about just words. We have the technology to record videos, make images and insert audio into our messages.
Communication in Practice
An effective communication learning experience allows students to:
- Extend communication beyond a simple thought.
- Include more than one communication method. E.g., embed photos into a blog post.
- Support their ideas with evidence.
- Communicate for a particular audience.
When talking about communication skills, they seem easy on the surface, but as you can see from the above list, to effectively embed them can require a lot of planning.
In our courses, we naturally build them in throughout the entire curriculum. You will find that we have designed many of the tasks so that students get a chance to practise these from a young age.
Many of our education systems were designed during the Industrial Revolution, and they placed a significant emphasis on the teacher sharing information with their students in class. This education model generally views knowledge as fixed, placing a high value on students sitting and taking it in rather than discovering it themselves.
However, in this era, is this the best method? We now live with information easily accessible. People need to do more than just remembering facts and repeating them. Students need to develop thinking skills and more in-depth understanding that allows people to work with the information they find.
Deep understanding also means being able to make connections across and between “big ideas”. Rather than working within single subjects– such as Mathematics, Science, History and Languages – students should have opportunities to learn across many disciplines.
Knowledge Construction in Practice
The skills needed by people are:
- Critical thinking. I.e., how to interpret, analyse, evaluate, and make connections between ideas.
- Application of knowledge.
- The ability to link between different academic subjects.
All our courses, from the young learners to the adults build in critical thinking skills. We don’t just teach one subject in isolation; we link the curriculum subjects in a natural way that encourages students to do the same outside of lessons.
Self-regulation is the ability to make learning decisions for yourself. In the real world, jobs no longer require you to follow orders; they need workers who can show initiative, plan their work, and respond to feedback.
When students are self-regulating, they are setting their own learning goals and planning how to achieve them. The teacher is there to provide feedback that helps the students achieve their aims.
Self-regulation in Practice
For a learning activity to provide opportunities to practise self-regulation, it must:
- Be long term to allow students the chance to plan their work.
- Have learning goals and success criteria to help students plan their work.
- Include an opportunity for students to improve and update their work after feedback.
When you take one of our courses, you will see at the start of each section, the learning aims and success criteria for that aim. These will help you, or your child plan what you need to focus on to meet the goals. We always start with a question to get you thinking and hopefully highlight any gaps where you should focus. All assessments and quizzes include feedback to allow learners to make any adjustments.
Real-World Problem Solving
According to employers, the essential skills that people entering new jobs need are teamwork, problem-solving and innovative thinking. Education should prepare people to problem-solve but with real-world scenarios that are meaningful. Real-world problems allow real innovation to happen.
Problem-solving in Practice
Problem-solving activities should include:
- A task with a defined challenge that does not just give students all the information they need.
- A real-world element. I.e., a problem that real people experience or that uses actual data.
- A chance to show innovation. I.e., putting the students’ ideas or solutions into Practice in the real world and a solution that benefits people other than the student.
Use of ICT for Learning
There is no denying that ICT plays a massive role in peoples’ everyday lives now. In today’s world, people need to use ICT to go beyond just communicating with others or consuming media. The era calls for people who can design and create new information using a wide range of technology.
ICT for Learning in Practice
An effective ICT for learning activity has:
- The students using the ICT. I.e., it is not enough for the teacher to present materials using ICT; there must be an element where students use it actively.
- Students using ICT to add to their knowledge.
- Students acting as ICT designers. E.g., they create ICT products that others can use.
As you can see, embedding all of these in a lesson is quite a challenge. We view 21st Century Learning as a way of thinking about overall curriculum design than individual lessons, so when we plan out our courses, we have these six learning areas in the back of our minds. It is important to us that our courses are valuable for people in the short term, but they offer real chances to improve employability skills. Education should be more about just ticking a box to get an exam grade; it should have real value.