George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning?

September 12, 2012
Image Credit: Krissy Venosdale
A Tale of Two Classrooms: Compare & Contrast

Just let me start off by saying that the term "21st Century Learning" still drives me crazy. If you think about it, in the last ten years have we progressed in our thoughts about what learning should look like and could be? What about in the next 50 years? Will "21st Century Learning" be the same, or will we still promote the same skills? Who knows? But I am sure that our world will continue to change significantly.

With that being said, for the sake of discussion, I will call it "21st Century Learning."

Devices Without Direction?

I had a great discussion with some educators the other day about the idea of "21st Century Schools vs. 21st Century Learning." In the last month, I have seen so many schools with AMAZING spaces that make it look as if great learning opportunities are happening, but I am not sure if the learning has changed. If a school has these fantastic spaces (such as a library which many now refer to as a media center or commons) while we are still telling kids to be quiet and having them sit alone (but on comfortable couches!), do we really have 21st Century Learning? Or do we just have something that looks good to our stakeholders? I know that amazing learning doesn't happen just because we make amazing spaces for it, but what are the goals that we are moving toward?

This has really been weighing on my mind since I started seeing a lot of iPads in schools in a 1:1 environment. I asked a group of students at one school how they were using their devices, and they told me that they now had their textbooks on the iPad. They also told me that they didn't like having the iPads because there were so many other things to do on the device that they couldn't stay focused.

Pretty crazy since they'd been given an online textbook to keep them entertained!

The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too often without conversations with educators about what learning should be happening in the classroom. This is actually frustrating many teachers that I have spoken with; it just becomes another thing being dumped on educators, not something that is going to make learning better. There is definitely some value in playing with a device and figuring out the wonderful things it can do, but should we really buy these en masse for that purpose? Shouldn't we try to figure out what the learning looks like and then discuss the device? It seems sometimes that we are doing the exact opposite.

Visions for Learning

In the Parkland School Division, we have focused a lot on where we would like to go, and our Digital Portfolio Project discusses the learning that we'd like to see. In fact, with all of the content included in the document, the iPad is not even discussed. The focus is on the learning, as it should be. Once that is somewhat clear to all (because learning continuously evolves), then we can take the next steps. Too many schools are doing it in reverse.

A question that I often ask many educators is this: can you tell me your school's vision for learning? I am worried that this is not something many schools have even talked about, let alone articulated with each other.

I really believe that some amazing learning is possible in schools stuck with the "traditional four walls" if we focus on what the learning should look like. Scroll up and take a look at the image above, via Krissy Venosdale

Could this be the way to start a discussion with staff? What is imperative? What is great? What is missing?

Let's continue to focus on the learning but really focus our time when we get together to figure out what it should look like. We can figure out the devices later.

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