My working definition of “21st century learning”


As I am grappling with articulating my central question for my action research this year in Grade 7 English, I am struck with the realization that I don’t have a firm grasp on what “21st Century Learning” really means. Am I alone in feeling how nebulous this term is?

I mean, I know on one level I know that it revolves around leveraging technology, connecting with our global world, collaborating with others, being innovative, and solving complex problems…but I have yet to internalize an effective and concise working definition as it applies to my practice and discipline.

So I consulted the oracle (Google) and I found this article from EducationWeek that was asking the same question I am pondering and posed it to eleven different educational thinkers.

As you can probably guess, their answers reflected the complex nature of this subject. But I pulled a few themes that either resonated with my personal beliefs or reflected an aspect of English teaching that I thought was applicable. According to these experts, 21st century learning is:

  • Personalized: the learner’s goals and interest drive instruction
  • Focused on Excellence: the fundamentals do not get replaced in this paradigm, but rather technology is leveraged (there’s that word again) to enhance instruction and improve how the basics are taught.
  • Innovative: Getting outside of the box means rethinking the “norms” of school. Teachers become learners, risks are rewarded, the outside world is reflected in the classroom, and authentic problems are solved in order to teach concepts.


This makes me wonder if the educational community needs to collectively agree what we mean when we say “21st Century Learning”. Or is it that we don’t know what the future will hold, so we are all just collectively guessing about what we need to teach / how we teach it in order to best serve our students? Or should we all come to understand this term in our own way, even if that means uncertainty and confusion, because navigating these two ideas will be key for finding success in the world to come?

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

One comment on “My working definition of “21st century learning”

  1. Bob Loiselle says:

    Read the referenced article and I have to say that it hit an emotional note with me. The emotion that I felt was fear.
    My wife teaches students in grades 3,4 and she talks about personalized instruction all the time. She is consistently using new technology to engage a wide variety of students simultaneously in a wide variety of contexts. She is constantly assessing students individual needs and letting those needs drive what she is instructing. I have often marvelled at this ability to keep so many balls in the air at the same time. I find the thought of it happening in some of my classroom contexts, scary.
    I think what I am getting at, is that 21st century education is scary. But I think scary is good. Maybe we know when we are challenging ourselves to be consistently better when we are consistently feeling scared.

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