21st Century skills focus on developing competencies in technology, collaboration, problem solving, and networking, etc. that “…build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom…” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 19). Educators as well as students need to acquire these proficiencies to compete in the digital age. Educators need to now design curriculum that seamlessly integrates technology and fosters interdisciplinary inquiry that requires a new way of thinking about teaching.
Knowledge building has shifted from “knowing” or the ability to remember details to being able to develop the intellectual tools to use knowledge (Simon, 1996). This requires educators and schools to restructure so that students learn with understanding of content rather than through the repetition of information. In this digital age, technology has given learners heightened access to information, ideas and people where knowledge can be shared using Web 2.0 tools. Educators need to keep up with this knowledge and be digitally resilient when learning to implement new technologies into the classroom.
I believe that a new learning theory for the digital age needs to be established. Past learning theories such as Constructivism focus on the individual assembling information from past knowledge conveyed by the instructor. A more recent learning theory, Connectivism, is concerned with community knowledge building where information is exponentially increased through new connections that create new learning opportunities. Teachers transform existing knowledge, yet connections are made by students rather than the teacher; resulting in more engaging and memorable learning experiences. This learning theory encourages the teacher to not be the source of information, but rather he/she is the learning expert that guides students through knowledge building (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000). Connectivism is an exciting learning theory in that it utilizes new technologies to boost learner collaboration and to better manage this explosion of knowledge (Starkey, 2010).
I gravitate to Connectivism because of its focus on student-lead exercises instead of teacher controlled learning. My experiences teaching new Canadians have taught me to allow students time in class to practice content, which is referred to as the ‘silent’ teaching method. It implies that students spend approximately 80% of class time activating previous knowledge and making connections to newly learnt material rather than listening to instructional lectures. In this environment, educators act as facilitators and should spend approximately 20% of class time guiding and setting the parameters for learning.
This type of instruction requires much out of class preparation because educators need to first locate relevant information, divide material into manageable lessons, determine the technology to use to enhance learning, and finally connect the technology to the learning outcomes of the lesson. Teacher are not able to walk into class ill prepared because there are too many decisions that must be made prior to the face-to-face exchange. Furthermore, this type of teaching allows the facilitator to observe classroom interactions and to make note of lesson changes. It also offers students ‘in the moment’ and real world learning opportunities.
I encourage teachers to research Connectivism and to become digitally resilient in their attempt to establish consistent technology usage in the classroom to meet 21st Century skills development.
Bransford, J., Brown, A. & Cocking, R. (2000). How experts differ from novices. How People Learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 31-50). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. (Chapter 2)
Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.pdf
Simon, H.A. (1996). Observations on the Sciences of Science Learning. Paper prepared for the Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning for the Sciences of Science Learning: An Interdisciplinary Discussion. Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University.
Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244.