What is 21st Century Learning? Why has this term become so polarizing, inspirational for some and downright evil to others. Governments and school boards tout its praises as the second coming of education. But why is there such resistance from teachers? Well for one the fact that when you ask someone to define it they refuse to do so or provide their interpretation. You have schools that were built in the mid 20th century that don’t have the infrastructure or capacity to accommodate new approaches to education. You have governments that use it as a threat of what is to come and if you don’t jump on the bandwagon now, prepare to be run over. All of these are valid reasons for teachers to resist but the fundamental reason is a lack of professional development and leadership from government and school boards.
Now don’t get me wrong there are plenty of experts in the field that make the lecture circuit and provide workshops either live or virtually but many of them are cost prohibitive and don’t provide the hands-on or follow-up most teachers require to adopt 21st century strategies. Computer labs are aging and internet bandwidth is slower than most home networks. Curriculum is still grounded in rote learning and jam packed with content that the pressure to complete the curriculum becomes the driving force behind how teachers prepare their lessons. Until the pieces are put in place to provide training, support and opportunity to teachers, 21st century learning will continue to polarize the field of education. Top-down initiatives rarely work and this is no exception. There are the converts and early adopters that see technology as another device to achieve the goal of meaningful learning and increased student engagement but for the most part the lack of resources and support drive the skeptical teacher away. I remember proposing a tech mentor position at my high school 8 years ago only to be told there wasn’t a need for one.
21st Century Learning, by my definition, emphasizes choice and engagement. Technology is simply an avenue to achieve engagement and understanding. Content takes a back seat to core skills and subjects morph in and out with the boundaries between each becoming blurred intentionally. School is seen as meaningful and not a requirement. Learning becomes the motivator and not marks. Teachers move away from being the vessel of knowledge to the facilitator of learning, allowing students to fill their knowledge at a pace that is suitable for them. The walls of the school are torn down through community partnership and virtual experiences. Textbooks become a supplement and not a necessity. All of these aspects point to good teaching and learning. All stakeholders have a role to play and students are seen as shaping their education instead of being melded to our likeness. No one will deny that this is the direction education needs to take in order to take advantage of the changing landscape of our global village. So the question begs to be asked, ‘When will governments and school boards stop talking about 21st Century Learning and finally join it?’