What does 21st Century Learning look like, really?

What does 21st Century Learning look like, really?

It seems like 21st century learning is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. Everywhere you go, schools are either ’embracing 21st century learning’ or they are being urged. Usually, there’s flash graphics of computers or tablet devices, and even talk of open spaces and options and pathways. However, like a lot of so-called futurist thinking, it seems to be short on details but long on rhetoric. It’s worth remembering that there are few organisations that are as resistant to change as schools – in the last century or so, there have been, for the most part, only superficial changes. Classes are still organised in the same way, subjects are still siloed and students still sit examinations that are artificial to their experience of real life, once they leave school. So, I ask you, what does 21st Century Learning really look like?

The simple part to that question is to consider what the 21st century looks like – or might look like in 5 years, or 10 years, or 15. It’s a simple question, but crystal-bal-gazing aside, it’s not easy to answer. Simply put, it is hard to predict how society will change – few people predicted the rise of social media and I think the ubiquitous nature (at least for some) of technology is continuing to change society at an unprecedented rate. We’ve all heard that society has changed more in the last 5 years than in the last 50, and whether that’s true or not, it is a fact that students entering school now will leave school to a very different society than the one we are currently preparing them for. Another oft-bandied comment is that we need to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. I’m not sure what that even means, so I’m struggling, as a teacher and as a school leader, to do anything like that.

So what do we know? Well, we do know that there will be increasing competition on a global scale supported by technologies that we are only just beginning to see employed. By this I mean that, as a business, you will be competing on a global market, in terms of production, operations, HR and even finance. One need only realise the preponderance of call centres in places like India to realise how quickly companies have identified the opportunities afforded by this. An even scarier example relates to how quickly coding work is being sent overseas. What does this mean for schools? Simply put, schools have to produce a better product if their students are going to be able to compete against other people in the market. If that’s even possible.

This is a rich vein of thought… I will return to this at a later date.