Saturday, February 6, 2010

Developing an Understanding of 21st Century Learning

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a synopsis of ideas presented by various organizations and authors in order to develop an understanding of 21st century learning. The synopsis is organized by the following guiding questions:

1. How is 21st century learning defined?
2. What are 21st century skills?
3. What are 21st century media literacies?
4. What are the standards of 21st century learning?
5. What are the principles for 21st century learning?
6. What constitutes a 21st century learning environment?
7. Are Canadian students currently engaged at school?
8. What do 21st century learners want schooling to become?
9. What program structures impact 21st century learning curriculum?
10. How does online learning meet the needs of 21st century learners?
11. What is the global achievement gap?
12. What is the role of technology in 21st century learning?
13. What does leadership for 21st century schools look like?
14. What do leaders need to know about 21st century learning?
15. What are some other sources for developing an understanding of 21st century learning?

1. How is 21st century learning defined?
The framework provides a holistic view of 21st century teaching and learning. It presents a vision for 21st century student outcomes (a blending of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies) and support systems needed. The elements represented by the rainbow are the knowledge, skills and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21st Century. The paper defines each element in the rainbow and includes additional sub categories.

What are the critical systems necessary to ensure student mastery of 21st century skills? The elements described below the rainbow are the critical systems: standards, assessments, curriculum, instruction, PD, and learning environments must be aligned to produce a support system that produces 21st century outcome for today’s students.

Note: This paper is current (2009) and a quick read (9 pages); could be helpful in identifying 21st century skills and how to incorporate them into teaching and learning.
Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills: P21 Framework Definitions Document. (2009).

2. What are 21st century skills?
The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's (NCREL) "enGauge" is a Web-based framework that describes six essential conditions, or system-wide factors critical to the effective use of technology for student learning. In addition to the framework, the "enGauge" Web site includes an online survey instrument that allows districts and schools to conduct online assessments of system-wide educational technology effectiveness. These skills are not at odds with traditional educational skills, but are, in fact, extensions of those skills, adapted to new technologies and new work environments.

The publication consists of five main sections, following an introduction. The first section, "Digital-Age Literacy," discusses basic, scientific and technological literacies; visual and information literacies; and cultural literacy and global awareness. The second section, "Inventive Thinking," focuses on adaptability/ability to manage complexity; curiosity, creativity, and risk-taking; and higher-order thinking and sound reasoning. Section three, "Effective Communication," deals with teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills; personal and social responsibility; and interactive communication. The fourth section, "High Productivity," discusses the ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results; effective use of real-world tools; and relevant, high-quality products. Section five, "Information Technology," identifies possible social effects with regard to information technology. Two other sections provide a brief summary and references.
Note: This publication is 88 pages and describes a set of 21st century skills that will be increasingly important to students entering the work force; diagram is frequently referenced in publications. A brief version is available at -
Source: Lemke, C. (2003). enGauge 21st Century Skills: Digital Literacies for a Digital Age. Naperville, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

3. What are 21st century media literacies?

This white paper suggests schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Note: 72 Pages
Source: Jenkins H. ( 2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for 21st Century.

4. What are the standards of 21st century learning?
Learners use skills, resources & tools to: (1) inquire, think critically and gain knowledge; (2) draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge; (3) share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society; (4) pursue personal and aesthetic growth.
Note: 8 pages
Source: American Association for School Librarians: Standards for the 21st Century Learner. (2008).

5. What are the principles for 21st century learning?

• Focus on 21st century skills and content. Students need to know how as well as what in order to participate fully in the modern world.
• Give students the context of the topics they are studying. Students want to know why a given topic is relevant, as well as understand how to inscribe the topic in an overarching personal construct.
• Promote deeper engagement with core subjects through analysis and synthesis, not merely descriptive or memorized facts. In a world of facts at our fingertips, depth of knowledge matters more than breadth.
• Build understanding across disciplinary categories through 21st century themes. Meaningful problems are usually complex and boundary-spanning.
• Engage students with the real world data, tools, and experts they will encounter in college, on the job, and in life. Students learn best when actively engaged in solving meaningful problems.
• Go beyond content knowledge to identify other 21st century educational support systems. Coherent curricula, powerful professional development opportunities, and engaging learning environments are essential to a 21st century education system.
• Allow for multiple measures of mastery. The richness of 21st century learning requires a matching range of assessments, from standardized tests to technology-enhanced, classroom, and performance-based assessments.
• Use accountability as an indicator of progress, rather than a system of sanctions, to guide systemic improvement of students, teachers, and schools.

Note: 12 pages
Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills: 21st Century Skills Standards. (2007).

6. What constitutes a 21st century learning environment?
The paper offers a descriptive view of the places, tools, people, and policies that make up 21st century learning environments. The paper addresses the relationship of physical spaces and technological systems to learning, but more importantly, considers how those resources support the positive human relationships that matter most to learning.
21st century learning environment as an aligned and synergistic system of systems that:
- Creates learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes
-Supports professional learning communities that enable educators to collaborate, share best practices, and integrate 21st century skills into classroom practice
-Enables students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work)
-Allows equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies, and resources
-Provides 21st century architectural and interior designs for group, team, and individual learning.
Supports expanded community and international involvement in learning, both face-to-face and online

Note: This document is detailed (34 pages); great guide for leaders; shift from focus on teaching to learning; includes PLC’s as a strategy
Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills: 21st Century Learning Environments. (2009).

7. Are Canadian students currently engaged at school?
This research initiative explores social, academic and intellectual engagement. Students complete an online survey regarding their learning experiences. Schools use the data as a catalyst to work collaboratively in creating effective and engaging learning environments.

The initiative advances these four contentions:
· Teaching practices exist that enable all students to achieve at high levels.
· Certain teaching practices and learning processes engage students in deeper and more sustained learning.
· The achievement gap could be narrowed, if not eliminated, by consistently using the teaching practices that we know are effective.
· Students have a better educational experience when teachers and students actively collaborate in the process of improvement.

Source: Willms, J. D., Friesen, S. & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic, and intellectual engagement. (First National Report) Toronto: Canadian Education Association.

8. What do 21st century learners want schooling to become?
Secondary students across Canada were asked to articulate what they understood school to be and to articulate what they wanted schooling to become. They identified three places: the learning program (what they needed to learn), learning relationships (who they needed to learn from and with) and learning spaces (where they needed to learn).
Source: Friesen, S., & Jardine, D. (2009). 21st Century Learning and Learners. Western and Northern Canadian Curriculum Protocol.

9. What program structures impact 21st century learning curriculum?
This book provides ideas for the following key areas: content and assessment, program structures, technology, media literacy, globalization, sustainability, and habits of mind.
Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: ASCD Publications.

10. How does online learning meet the needs of 21st century learners?
This report examines the growing student interest for online learning and how schools are meeting that demand. This report highlights how students are utilizing technology to become "free agent learners" and driving the demand for more online classes in and out of school. Yet, our schools are limiting online classes to remediation and credit recovery for students, and primarily focusing their online learning initiatives towards professional development for teachers. Through this report you will gain insight, from schools and districts across the nation, about why students and teachers want access to classes online, the current challenges faced by districts with online learning implementations, and how online learning presents unprecedented opportunities for meeting the needs of our 21st century learner. (8 pages)

Source: Project Tomorrow. Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update. (2009).

11. What is the global achievement gap?
The global achievement gap is the gap between what we are teaching and testing in our schools, even in the ones that are most highly-regarded, versus the skills all students will need for careers, college, and citizenship in the 21st century. According to Wagner’s book, the seven survival skills are critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination.

Source: Wagner, T. (2008). The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need - and What We Can Do About It New York, NY: Basic Books.

12. What is the role of technology in 21st century learning?
Technology has a fundamental role to play in creating a 21st century education system. What will it take to maximize the impact of technology? It will take a clear vision of a 21st century education and an understanding of technology’s role. It will require reliable and equitable access to technology and planned, ongoing investments. And it will require substantive and meaningful professional development for educators. More than anything else, though, it will take inspirational leadership and action from all stakeholders. The action principles and resources in this report provide a starting point for moving forward.
Note: 24 pages

Source: Maximizing the Impact: The pivotal role of technology in a 21st century education system.

13. What does leadership for 21st century schools look like?
The report highlights how education technology visionaries are creating 21st century schools. The authors discuss 21st century realities, challenges, the ultimate 21st century school, persistent challenges to technology integration, measures for calculating success, online learning, mobile devices, visionary administrators and schools of the future.
Note: 23 pages
Source: Leadership in the 21st Century: The New Visionary Administrator. (2008). Project Tomorrow

14. What do leaders need to know about 21st century learning?
This book is aligned with the newly refreshed NETS for administrators and describes how to lead and develop schools that meet the needs of today’s learners. There is an emphasis on 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, and creation/creativity.
Schrum, L., Levin, B. (2009). Leading 21st Century Schools: Harnessing Technology for Engagement and Achievement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

15. What are some other sources for developing an understanding of 21st century learning?

Learning to Change Changing to Learn, 5:35 (Anderson, 2008) – various well known educators, CEO’s and University professors provide insight on change in the 21st century.

A Vision of K-12 Students Today, 4:09 (Nesbitt, 2007) – this project was create to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills.

New Literacies for a New Age, 2:52 (Meijers, 2008) – a fable illustrated for teachers.

American Teens and Social Media, 7:09 (2009) - A remix of... Danah Boyd's dissertation on teenagers and their patterns of using social media. Danah is Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research New England.


Speak Out is an opportunity for Alberta’s youth to share their experiences and ideas and to help the people who make decisions about our schools understand the issues that are important to us.

Let me know if you have other questions/resources to add to the list!