There are only two true 21st century skills. They are learning and implementing ideas. All technological approaches are auxiliary skills which support the two main 21st century skills. As well, new pedagogies rising to the forefront. They are teaching skills which have likely always been important for the modern era but are just now becoming widely used the in this latest phase of development. So how do we prepare our students for the future? Let me hit you the bad news first.
Fact: Human beings love to predict the future.
Fact: Human beings are not very good at predicting the future. (Dubner, 2011)
It’s my experience that progress is one of the most terribly misunderstood natural systems amongst the general population. Even some of the most famous futurists are pretty terrible at predicting the future. Let’s look at a lecture from Ray Kurzweil in 2005
He correctly identifies the exponential growth of ideas which drives progress. But then he goes on to make some outlandish predictions for 2020 based on what ideas he believe will flourish.
What he fails to grasp is that ideas, more than any other form of information, must compete to spread in an environment. There they will converge and diverge in limitless way with survival based on their benefit to the host. What Kurzweil did was the overvalue his idea. They may be exciting and possible predictions but these ideas are not doing many people very much good right now except for a few elites like himself. He simply puts the overlay of exponential growth onto ideas which aren’t growing so fast.
They may be scientists out their tracking all the ideas and developing more accurate predictions. People perhaps akin to Asimov’s “psychohistorians” (Asimov, 1951). But it’s currently useless to the vast majority of us.
But let’s, if I may use the language of my childhood, “rewind” back to what we do know and Kurzweil and I agree on. Progress it speeding up exponentially. So the only to thinks we can predict for our kids is that they will have to be good learns for their entire lives and they need to be able to act on their new knowledge.
Teaching kid about blogging, social media, mobile apps, and so on are not 21st century skills. They are contemporary skills. Must like the kids of the nineties learned how to use older iterations of information technology. But as educators we have to keep current or we’ll end up as anachronistic this 90’s gem:
Teaching kids the technology of today puts them in a position to progress into the future. It puts them in the place they need to be in order to research, learn, and expand their understanding. It’s an essential tool for acquiring the 21st century skills of learning and actualization. But today’s technology shouldn’t be labeled as 21st century skills because it’s going to change drastically.
What’s the conclusion for 21st century leaning? We’re going to need kids who can adapt!
To achieve this goal we have been seeing changes in popular pedagogies. One model for grouping the goals of these methods is the 4C or “creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, and collaboration.” Not exactly elegant but it serviceably arrives the point.
Let’s make one thing clear, these aren’t new skills. They’ve been around since before recorded history. They fact that they are just now front and center in education is shameful but to be expected. It’s only now, that ideas are moving fast enough that the common person with have to adapt with in their own life time.
Really the 4C is aimed towards students being able to learn and actualize.
creativity, critical thinking and problem solving = learning
communication, and collaboration = actualization
We are just beginning to ditch specialization in favor of cross disciplinary learning. There are many ways we can approach the challenge.
My personal favorite method is project based learning.
- I can integrate many other subjects into a project.
- Example: Have the kids read a fictional story about a balloon and have them make a balloon as part of science project.
- I can scale my use of technology depending on access to it.
- With or without classroom flipping
- With or without media limitations
- With or without student lead research
- Student can collaborate creatively to form personalized learning experiences.
- Student can reflect on their work.
- Reflection works best when students have actually done something.
The reason PBL is an exemplar of 21st century leaning is because it mirrors skills which students will need for the future. Some of these students have always needed such as collaboration and creativity, whether it was widely recognized or not. But it also forces students to learn and actualize their knowledge.
Asimov, I. (1951). Foundation. Doubleday.
Dubner, S. (2011, September 14). New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: The Folly of Prediction. Retrieved July 3, 2015.