21st Century Schools or 21st Century Learning?

couros.ca/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/21st-century-learning.jpeg” alt=”” width=”500″ height=”600″ /> Even this picture is way too old…We need to start having focused conversations on this topic.

Just let me start off by saying that the term “21st Century Learning” still drives me crazy. If you think about it, have we progressed in our thoughts about what learning should look like and could be in the last 10 years? 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 use the terms.

I had a great discussion with some educators the other day about the idea of “21st Century Schools vs. 21st Century Learning”. I have seen so many schools in the last month that have AMAZING spaces that make it look like there are great learning opportunities, but I am not sure if the learning has changed. If a school has these fantastic spaces, such as a library (which many will refer to as a media center or commons), but 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 we do not just make amazing spaces and then amazing learning happens, but what are the goals that we are moving to?

This has been really weighing on my mind a lot since I have seen a lot of iPads in schools in a 1:1 environment. I asked a group of students at one school what they had used their devices for and they had told me they were really used for having their textbooks on the iPad. They had actually 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 had an online textbook to keep them entertained 😉

The mass purchase of devices for schools is happening way too much inwithout 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 that has been 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 some of the amazing things it can do, but should we really be doing that by buying devices en masse? Shouldn’t we try to figure out what the learning look like and then discuss the device? It seems sometimes that we are doing the exact opposite.

As we have focused a lot on where we would like to go in Parkland, our Digital Portfolio Project which discusses the learning that we will want happening within the school division. In fact, with all of the content that is written in the document, the device is not even discussed. The focus is on the learning, as it should be. Once that is somewhat clear (learning continuously evolves) to all, then we need to take the next steps. Too many are doing it in reverse.

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

I really believe that some amazing learning can go on in schools that are stuck with the “traditional four walls” if we focus on what the learning should look like. Take a look at the picture below via Krissy Venosdale:


Could this not start a discussion with staff? What is imperative? What is great? What is missing?

Let’s continue to really focus our time when we get together to figure out what powerful learning should look like. We can figure out the devices later 🙂


  1. George, I’ve had the same discussions with teachers at my school over the past 2 years. In one of my recent posts, http://kwhobbes.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/in-this-galaxy-or-the-next-its-learning/, I discuss this same thing – we’re still enamoured with the “21st Century” titles and headlines yet we should be worried about creating a learning/supportive/engaging environment for students/teachers/parents. We’re so busy classifying terms and skills, making lists and producing checklists that we aren’t paying attention to make sure that our schools and classrooms have the supports and capacity to make necessary changes to allow students to explore, engage, collaborate and challenge. It doesn’t matter what the device is, and sometimes you don’t need a device – learning isn’t tethered to devices – it’s about what is happening in the halls, classrooms and other areas of the school that is important. Our school will be embarking on a K – 12 digital portfolio process this year – our K – 1’s began last year. In the end, it’s about the learning that students are doing and not about what device they use – we’ve learned to figure it out!

    August 24, 2012
  2. Could not agree more. I have been trying to get people to start using the term Nth Century Skills; these skills are timeless hallmarks of successful people in every century. http://wp.me/p2gT3m-3U.

    August 25, 2012
  3. “The term “21st Century Learning” also drives me crazy; along with other buzzwords such phrases as: “passionate about”, “sage on the stage, guide on the side”.
    I agree with most of what you say but take great exception to your comments about noise level in the library. Collaborating noisily disturbs others. Nothing 21st century about teen behaviour. All human beings need space, quiet, time for reflection, downtime, and our very 21st century school library provides it. Our kids are grateful for it. If they want a lounge to hang and talk with friends and collaborate noisily,we are not it- there are a myriad of places to do it – the cafeteria, hallways and empty rooms or online with Google docs. Until our school library has funding for a separate study hall we will provide quiet for those who crave it.

    August 27, 2012

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