Redesigning Learning for the 21st Century Learner

It's been almost 20yrs since I've graduated high school. That makes me a member of the oldest millennial class known. Our society changed a great deal from Y2K to today. For example, TSA was enacted. We went from buying CDs and VHS tapes to consuming digital media through streaming. We can purchase anything we want online and have it delivered instead of going to the mall for Christmas shopping. We can Skype or face time our loved ones half a world away instead of writing letters or being charged expensive long distance bills. Today people learn, work, and communicate in many different ways across different platforms unlike 20yrs ago.

What do these changes mean for today's 21st century learner?

Today I cannot visit a school where students were born into a world without the internet, iPhones, or Facebook. The world they grow-up and learn in is much different than the world I grew up in and went to school in. I passed notes. Today's students send texts. Teachers held all the knowledge when I was in school. Today students go to google for immediate answers. I remember grabbing the newspaper on Tuesday to see the divisional results of weekend football games. Now I get notifications of scores for each touchdown and major play. With so many changes to our society and our learners, why do so many classrooms look like the classes I attended over 20yrs ago?

The education system is generally rather slow and reactionary to societal change. However, the digital age moves extremely fast in comparison. In my work, I support educators with getting up to speed and getting over their barriers to transforming instruction for 21st century learning. Each person is different and can land anywhere on the readiness spectrum. With that in mind, I help them learn through modeling ways they can use to work with their students.

As much as many of us would like to avoid it, times have changed, society has changed, and the students being educated have changed. Differentation, a relevant hot topic education term, is individualizing the learning experience for the learner to optimize learning outcomes. As an example, take a moment and think about how do most adults learn to do new things around the house like cook a new recipe, jailbreak a device, or fix something broken? I often use this example in professional development workshops and most people answer, "Google or YouTube". Alternatively, what did we do in the 80's and 90's? In this example there isn't a person residing as the gate keeper of knowledge determining when and how you received new information. Today we don't have to buy a special book or pay to take a formal class. Today anyone can sample knowledge from different sources online like food at a buffet until they find the learning experience that works best for them. It's no different for today's students. According to Burns (2007), the position of expert practitioner for educators is in jeopardy because knowledge shared through sites, like YouTube, is on par with expert scholars, and is readily accessible to user-led environments. This does not mean teachers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs but it does mean they are in jeopardy of being effective when using outdated approaches to learning.

So does it mean everyday should be centers station rotation day? Honestly, I'm not sure. However, I think our in class learning experiences should be more reflective of real society. If you watched the average school on any average day, would it reflect the societal norms of working and learning outside of a structured school environment? Chances are no. So if school is supposed to prepare students for college and career readiness then why aren't they preparing students for 21st century college and career readiness? It takes time to transform the culture of education and what's been in practice forever. Not to mention everyone hates playing a game their no good at. Ask any teacher that tries something new and the first time out it bombs and the students are out of control. It's like touching a hot stove, they never want to do it again. So just like my students, I meet educators where they are to provide immediate access. I then provide immediate success through modeling and co-facilitation. Next I provide appropriate supports, scaffolds, modifications, etc. to build their capacity to where we both want to be. I treat it just like a client I was personal training.

As an example, one simple and free tool I suggest to help educators get started with transforming their practice into a more 21st century learning environment is through using plickers. I've provided a link for the site below. Plickers is a great way to quickly assess your students' responses. If you don't have smartboard clickers than plickers are a great alternative. Instead of hearing from one or two students per question, you can get data from every student instantaneously by using your phone to scan the room while they hold up their card. How could this be more beneficial than asking students to raise their to provide the answer to a question?

Students using plickers for immediate feedback.