21st Century Learning

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The 21st Century used to be a synonym for the utopian future; but now it’s well and truly here. I used to love to read science-fiction stories about what the future would be like. But it arrives whether you’re prepared or not. And are our students prepared?

I spent some time today preparing for a presentation for staff on ‘student voice’, with a bit of an emphasis on using wikis to create collaborative learning projects going.

So, I thought I’d grab a list of 21st Century Skills to launch into that discussion. Not so easy!  There’s lots of lists around, but I found it hard to find anything that looked quite right.

I began by searching this very blog and fund a couple of good starts. Will Richardson’s list of learning axioms from EduCon, that I blogged about in December last year, is good, but more about the schools than the students. It says:

1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members

2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen

3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.

4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

5) Learning can — and must — be networked.

Then I found Greg Whitby’s keynote comments from the IB Conference I attended in April. He said it was about learning for this century and talked of the recent OECD work which described learning having four components:


  • Customised: 1-1 learning
  • Knowledge sources: Cloud, anywhere, anytime learning
  • Collaboration: between teachers and students, students and students, and teachers and teachers (Called in the literature as ‘de-privatising practice‘) Learning is a ‘mediated practice’
  • Assessment: here, he emphasised ‘assessment for learning’.

Four components, but not the skills I was after. I wanted things like ‘collaboration’, ‘problem solving’ and ‘creativity’.

So, I headed over to the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Ausralians (Direct link to PDF) which is the latest combined offering from Australian government, just out this year and replacing the Adelaide Declaration of 1999. I was disappointed.  The premable sounds like it was written by a committee:

In the 21st century Australia’s capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation. Education equips young people with the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to take advantage of opportunity and to face the challenges of this era with confi dence. Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion. Schools share this responsibility with students, parents, carers, families, the community, business and other education and training providers. In recognition of this collective responsibility, this declaration, in contrast to earlier declarations on schooling, has a broader frame and sets out educational goals for young Australians.
In the 1989 Hobart Declaration and the 1999 Adelaide Declaration, the State, Territory and Commonwealth Education Ministers committed to working together to ensure high-quality schooling for all young Australians. The Melbourne Declaration acknowledges major changes in the world that are placing new demands on Australian education:
– Global integration and international mobility have increased rapidly in the past decade. As a consequence, new and exciting opportunities for Australians are emerging. This heightens the need to nurture an appreciation of and respect for social, cultural and religious diversity, and a sense of global citizenship. – India, China and other Asian nations are growing and their infl uence on the world is increasing. Australians need to become ‘Asia literate’, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia.
– Globalisation and technological change are placing greater demands on education and skill development in Australia and the nature of jobs available to young Australians is changing faster than ever. Skilled jobs now dominate jobs growth and people with university or vocational education and training qualifi cations fare much better in the employment market than early school leavers. To maximise their opportunities for healthy, productive and rewarding futures, Australia’s young people must be encouraged not only to complete secondary education, but also to proceed into further training or education.
– Complex environmental, social and economic pressures such as climate change that extend beyond national borders pose unprecedented challenges, requiring countries to work together in new ways. To meet these challenges, Australians must be able to engage with scientifi c concepts and principles, and approach problem-solving in new and creative ways.
– Rapid and continuing advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) are changing the ways people share, use, develop and process information and technology. In this digital age, young people need to be highly skilled in the use of ICT. While schools already employ these technologies in learning, there is a need to increase their effectiveness signifi cantly over the next decade.
Australia has developed a highquality, world-class schooling system, which performs strongly against other countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In international benchmarking of educational outcomes for 15-year-olds in the 2006 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia ranked among the top 10 countries across all three education domains assessed. Over the next decade Australia should aspire to improve outcomes for all young Australians to become second to none amongst the world’s best school systems.
In striving for both equity and excellence, there are several areas in which Australian school education needs to make signifi cant improvement. First, Australia has failed to improve educational outcomes for many Indigenous Australians and addressing this issue must be a key priority over the next decade. Second, by comparison with the world’s highest performing school systems, Australian students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are under-represented among high achievers and overrepresented among low achievers. Third, there is room for improvement in Australia’s rate of Year 12 completion or equivalent.
Literacy and numeracy and knowledge of key disciplines remain the cornerstone of schooling for young Australians. Schooling should also support the development of skills in areas such as social interaction, crossdisciplinary thinking and the use of digital media, which are essential in all 21st century occupations. As well as knowledge and skills, a school’s legacy to young people should include national values of democracy, equity and justice, and personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience and respect for others.
As signatories to the Melbourne Declaration, Australian Education Ministers seek to achieve the highest possible level of collaboration with the government, Catholic and independent school sectors and across and between all levels of government. Australian Education Ministers also seek to achieve new levels of engagement with all stakeholders in the education of young Australians.

In the 21st century Australia’s capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation. Education equips young people with the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to take advantage of opportunity and to face the challenges of this era with confi dence. Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion. Schools share this responsibility with students, parents, carers, families, the community, business and other education and training providers. In recognition of this collective responsibility, this declaration, in contrast to earlier declarations on schooling, has a broader frame and sets out educational goals for young Australians…

But Goal 2 comes closer, and I’v put in bold the things that resonated here for me:

Goal 2:

All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens

– develop their capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning

– have the essential skills in literacy and numeracy and are creative and productive users of technology, especially ICT, as a foundation for success in all learning areas

– are able to think deeply and logically, and obtain and evaluate evidence in a disciplined way as the result of studying fundamental disciplines

– are creative, innovative and resourceful, and are able to solve problems in ways that draw upon a range of learning areas and disciplines

– are able to plan activities independently, collaborate, work in teams and communicate ideas

– are able to make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are – are on a pathway towards continued success in further education, training or employment, and acquire the skills to make informed learning and employment decisions throughout their lives

– are motivated to reach their full potential

That’s closer, and I found a PDF from the Metiri Group in the USA in assoication with the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory which was even mor focused. It lists them in four areas: Digital Age Literacy (today’s basics), Inventive Thinking (intellectual capital), Interactive Communication (social and personal skills) and Quality State-of-the-Art Results. Here’s a summary:

Digital Age Literacy (today’s basics)

  • Basic, Scientific, and Technological Literacies
  • Visual and Information Literacy
  • Cultural Literacy and Global Awareness

Inventive Thinking (intellectual capital)

  • Adaptability/Managing Complexity and Self-Direction
  • Curiosity, Creativity and Risk-taking
  • Higher Order Thinking and Sound Reasoning

Interactive Communication (social and personal skills)

  • Teaming and Collaboration
  • Personal and Social Responsibility
  • Interactive Communication

Quality State-of-the-Art Results

  • Prioritizing, Planning, and Managing for Results
  • Effective Use of Real-World Tools
  • High Quality Results with Real-World Application

Then I found this blog post that listed seven key skills from Tony Wagner. He write:

Wagner presented a list of seven “survival skills” that students need to succeed in today’s information-age world, taken from his book 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. It’s a school’s job to make sure students have these skills before graduating, he said:

1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;

2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;

3. Agility and adaptability;

4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;

5. Effective written and oral communication;

6. Accessing and analyzing information; and

7. Curiosity and imagination.

Then, a new list supported by the NCSS lists these core skills:

* Creativity and innovation
* Critical thinking and problem solving
* Communication
* Collaboration
* Information literacy
* Media literacy
* ICT literacy
* Flexibility and adaptability
* Initiative and self-direction
* Social and cross-cultural skills
* Productivity and accountability
* Leadership and responsibility

So, I’m finally getting closer to the kind of list I was after, and seeing lots of commonality emerging. On the Edutopia site article about project based learning New Skills for a New Century, they state:

“Today’s graduates need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective communicators who are proficient in both core subjects and new, twenty-first-century content and skills,” according to “Results that Matter: 21st Century Skills and High School Reform,” a report issued in March by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

These include learning and thinking skills, information- and communications-technology literacy skills, and life skills.

Students of today enter an increasingly globalized world in which technology plays a vital role. They must be good communicators, as well as great collaborators. The new work environment requires responsibility and self-management, as well as interpersonal and project-management skills that demand teamwork and leadership.

The final example I found on a wiki called Golden Fleece wiki, which has quite a few more examples and opens up with this, which brings us right back  Will Richardson again:

Our kids’ futures will require them to be:

  • Networked–They’ll need an “outboard brain.”
  • More collaborative–They are going to need to work closely with people to co-create information.
  • More globally aware–Those collaborators may be anywhere in the world.
  • Less dependent on paper–Right now, we are still paper training our kids.
  • More active–In just about every sense of the word. Physically. Socially. Politically.
  • Fluent in creating and consuming hypertext–Basic reading and writing skills will not suffice.
  • More connected–To their communities, to their environments, to the world.
  • Editors of information–Something we should have been teaching them all along but is even more important now.

Am I any closer to that definitive list I wante to plonk on a PowerPoint slide?  No. But I did begin to see across curriculum contexts and regions, including our very own Melbourne Declaration that I opened so mockingly about, an emerging consensus about the directions we should all be taking in the interests of the young people in our schools.

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7 comments

  1. Hi Warrick,
    I’m currently doing the same research as you. I came across 21st Century Skills in July last year after visiting the USA as part of the ACCE Study Tour and attending NECC08.
    My aim for the first week of term break is to write a paper to support the kind of changes that I see as being the next step is using ICTs at my school.
    While watching the debate at NECC09 (virtually), Gary Stager’s comments made me think again about 21st Century Skills – hence the research.
    One site that may be useful for a list of skills is: The Partnership For 21st Century Skills http://is.gd/1m8Hs
    I also found this wiki http://theconnectedclassroom.wikispaces.com/Classroom
    Now, I want to find actual examples that can without a doubt, be classified as doing 21st century learning.
    Perhaps we can do some 21st century learning together and collaborate/share further!
    Colin

  2. Thank you! This echoes some of my own musings as I look for a way to clarify these ideas for myself and the teachers I work with. I would add two additional resources to the list:

    Building 21st C Skills – http://tinyurl.com/qphatt – an interesting list of 21st C Skills and related resources

    and

    Towards a Comprehensive Definition of Digital Skills – http://tinyurl.com/cexcpb – I find this an interesting and useful framework

    Just a little more fodder for the discussion!

    Robin Beaver

  3. Thanks for sharing Robin; the truth is that it’s probably not possible to be definitive about all this and indeed some of the skills for the 21st Century are skills we’d like to have had all along!

  4. Great blog–I think we will show in the next decade some important advances –I think one of the keys will be to link self assessment with public forms of assessment. If students understood what they were going to be assessed on more clearly then the idea of the “gotcha” and sudden death test will be a thing of the past. In turn this will assist learning and be helpful for teachers who will understand what they have to teach just as students will better understand what they have to learn.

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