Technology Does Not Equal 21st Century Learning


As our school embarks on a mission to become more of a 21st Century school combined with the fact that we are now a Google Apps school I have gotten a number of questions about technology and our dependency on it. One answer I gave is that I am sure there were glitches with the printing press but  they didn’t get rid of that and the same is true with technology. it is not perfect and there will be glitches but that doesn’t mean we should get rid of it.

In a different conversation I had it became clear to me that the person assumed that technology is the same as 21st Century learning.

That prompted in my mind the following response.

For example finding something on the Internet in not necessarily 21st century learning. Having students research something or come  up with questions and use the Internet as a resource for their research or their inquiry is more 21st century learning.


Below you will find a chart ( I am sorry it didn’t copy well but I included the link for you as well) that shows the difference between a 20th Century classroom and a 21st century classroom. As you go through the list  I don’t think you will see the word technology once.


Please don’t get me wrong  working with Google docs,wiki’s and blogs is great but lets not confuse giving an assignment to find something on the Internet with being a 21st Century school.

The chart below gives you some good concrete examples as well as to what makes something a 21st century activity.


Which one describes your Classroom or School?

20th Century Classrooms



USA 1960’s typical classroom – teacher-centered, fragmented curriculum, students working in isolation, memorizing facts.

21st Century Classrooms 

A San Francisco architectural firm establishes an alternative school providing internships for high school students.  A perfect example of real-life, relevant, project-based 21st century education.

Time-based Outcome-based 

Focus:  memorization of discrete facts Focus:  what students Know, Can Do and Are Like after all the details are forgotten. 

Lessons focus on the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy – knowledge, comprehension and application. Learning is designed on upper levels of Blooms’ – synthesis, analysis and evaluation (and include lower levels as curriculum is designed down from the top.) 

Textbook-driven Research-driven 

Passive learning Active Learning 

Learners work in isolation – classroom within 4 walls Learners work collaboratively with classmates and others around the world – the Global Classroom 

Teacher-centered:  teacher is center of attention and provider of information 

Student-centered:  teacher is facilitator/coach
Little to no student freedom Great deal of student freedom 

“Discipline problems – educators do not trust students and vice versa.  No student motivation. No “discipline problems” – students and teaches have mutually respectful relationship as co-learners; students are highly motivated. 

Fragmented curriculum Integrated and Interdisciplinary curriculum 

Grades averaged Grades based on what was learned 

Low expectations High expectations – “If it isn’t good it isn’t done.”  We expect, and ensure, that all students succeed in learning at high levels.  Some may go higher – we get out of their way to let them do that. 

Teacher is judge.  No one else sees student work. Self, Peer and Other assessments.  Public audience, authentic assessments. 

Curriculum/School is irrelevant and meaningless to the students. Curriculum is connected to students’ interests, experiences, talents and the real world. 

Print is the primary vehicle of learning and assessment. Performances, projects and multiple forms of media are used for learning and assessment 

Diversity in students is ignored. Curriculum and instruction address student diversity 

Literacy is the 3 R’s – reading, writing and math Multiple literacies of the 21st century – aligned to living and working in a globalized new millennium. 

Factory model, based upon the needs of employers for the Industrial Age of the 19th century.  Scientific management. 21st century model
Driven by the NCLB and standardized testing mania. Driven by exploration, creativity and 21st century skills


©Copyright 2010 21st Century Schools All Rights Reserved


  1. André Klein said:

    Great post! It’s true that all too often 21st century learning is equated with the technology and more complex implications are overshadowed by the hype. I like the analogy of the printing-press. At first, new tools come with all kinds of wild idealistic dreams and fears. Only later, they are recognized as and used for what they really are: tools.

    September 5, 2011
    • Andre,

      Thank you for the comment. Yes we need to keep our focus on what are the tools and what are our goals.
      Thanks again

      September 5, 2011
  2. Stephanie said:

    I had a similar rant last week and think you are bang on. Using a computer doesn’t automatically mean someone is learning. But neither does using a pencil, a whiteboard marker or a chisel. Put the learning ahead of the technology and that’s where the great teaching is found.

    September 6, 2011
    • Innovations in Online Education, Inc. said:

      I noticed and appreciate your comment. I find it so applicable to our own online program. We use certified content instructors in our online classes. The virtual classroom is the vehicle in our case, the product being delivered is quality instruction from a professional. We are not re-inventing the wheel so to speak but finding a better way to arrive. Thanks again — Fred De Sena VP Innovations in Online Education, Inc.

      September 6, 2011
    • Stephanie,
      Thank you for your comment. I also find it funny that in 2011 we are still talking about 21st Century learning when we are more than a decade into the 21st century. A topic for another post.
      Thanks for sharing

      September 7, 2011
  3. Not being from the academic world, I can truly appreciate this article. However, if technology is deployed as a tool, especially disruptive technologies then it can deliver education in areas which were unthinkable just a few years back.

    Today’s classroom is “where the internet is”! However, what I feel is that a Hybrid Model where some interaction with Faculty, Peers and Industry experts can truly exploit this learning model.

    As I am involved in building some of the future campuses, I feel campuses that understand how to deploy technologies that can handle both synchronous and asynchronous events for learning will truly take center stage in delivering world class education at the best price regardless of the location.

    September 6, 2011
    • Billa,
      I agree, a blend and balance is necessary. Tools and technology are great but it is the teacher and that human interaction that instills a love of learning and the skills we want our students to have.
      Thanks for your comment

      September 7, 2011
  4. Innovations in Online Education, Inc. said:

    Great chart and thank you for the assessment: Yes we need to put “21st century learning” in clear concise terms. Right now (from my own experience) you could ask 100 educational administrators to define “21st century learning” and I am sure you would get 94 different answers. If we can define the terms then we can chart the course (as you have provided so clearly above). — Much Thanks Fred De Sena VP Innovations in Online Education, Inc.

    September 6, 2011
  5. […] Two post that really stood out lately were Seth Godin’s Back to (the wrong) School post and Akevy Gleenblatt’s post about how tech does not equal 21st century learning. These post really have really have had me thinking about our society and wondering if it would be […]

    September 6, 2011
  6. Hi! My name is Katie and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am currently enrolled in EDM 310 with Mr. John Strange, and I am a pre-candidacy student majoring in elementary education. This article is one I have not seen before. You bring out some very good differences between 20th century school and 21st century school. In the 20th century, it was more engraving into the students memories and then the student spitting it back to the teacher later. Everyone forgot all about the information after a test and went on. In the 21st century, the teacher is more involved and the student is driven to remember information throughout schooling. You are completely right about students learning better today with hands-on and more media use. The students frequently remember things that are shown in very different or more technological ways. But in the 20th century, the students were taught plainly and the teachers did not really care if their classes were interesting or anything. Everything back then was driven by testing, and the teachers were not too concerned how anybody learned. In this modern day and age, teachers make sure all the student’s needs are met and that there is more than just constant testing. I really do agree with this post and think it is important for people to see the difference in just a couple of decades.

    September 7, 2011
    • Katelyn,
      Thank you for your comment. There is another great quote I like. It says;” Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”
      Thanks for sharing

      September 7, 2011
  7. Dear Rabbi Greenblatt
    I have shared your post to many people and I hope that they found it
    as insight-full as I do.
    I have also made a reference to you and your great post on my post: New Jewish Education from the Inside Out (
    I will be following your blog and learn more from your wisdom and expertise.
    Thank you for making sense of all the craziness around the 21st century learning world.
    Noemi Szoychen

    September 7, 2011
    • Noemi,
      Thank you for sharing and I am truly honored by the mention. i have also blogged about how we can balance these skills and ideas with religion.


      September 7, 2011
  8. Jerry said:

    Don’t bash 20th century learning too quickly. It gave us space flight and most of the technology we use today. A kid with a crayon can be more creative than geek with his gear.

    September 8, 2011
    • Lucie said:

      In trying to take the focus off technology and move away from a reference to 21st century we are focusing on creating a Digital Age Learning culture as one of our action goals and I love my new job as a digital age learning specialist

      September 17, 2011
  9. […] Other blogs that I have been reading have been considering the place of inquiry such as which is certainly linking in with the concept of what 21st Century learning should look like […]

    September 10, 2011
  10. […] and conduct of their rulers.” –John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1756“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from … right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied […]

    September 14, 2011

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