5 Things You Need to Know About 21st Century Learning

Guest article by Stephan Turnipseed, Former Chairman of The Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

This may surprise you, but learning is alive and well.

How do I know this?

Through my various roles in the education space over the past three decades, I have talked to educators around the world and had the privilege of watching kids get excited about learning when taking on engineering and project challenges. We know that educators and learners today face some unique challenges, and working with some of the best and brightest in the field of education has opened my eyes to what we can achieve to bring 21st century learning to all students.

Here are five things I learned about 21st century learning:

1. What happens in school often doesn’t prepare students for life beyond high school.

Unless we are talking about pockets of excellence where hands-on, 21st century learning is happening, schools are set up for the factory age, not for today’s globally and digitally interconnected knowledge economy. We have to continue to push schools and policy leaders to rethink how learning is organized, assessed, and applied so that students get a true taste of what awaits them in the real world. In the real world, answers are not found in the back of a book. They will need to know how to search for and analyze information, figure out creative solutions, and work with others to make their ideas take flight.

2. Collaboration is essential to get things done.

Sounds pretty obvious, but it truly is the secret sauce to the success of organizations. That’s why it’s more important than ever that students get to see collaboration in action from teachers in their classrooms, and that they learn to work well with others before they are out of high school. I am reminded of the incredible learning that comes from competitive team events like FIRST LEGO League and Destination Imagination where the only way to win is to collaborate. No matter if the competition is to build a robot or solve a customer’s problems, the team approach is the winning formula.

3. There is no end of the course test for creativity.

98% of children test as creative geniuses at age 5, but that number decreases to only 2% of adults by age 25. Yet, creativity is the engine that drives our world and economy today, not end of course test-taking ability. In fact, these type of multiple-choice, one-right-answer tests undermine the most important reality: There are multiple right answers to most problems. We need to make sure our learners don’t lose that creative spark as they go through school. Otherwise, we risk losing our creative geniuses as well as their innovative ideas and solutions to the biggest problems our world faces.

4. Learning does not stop.

The school day only accounts for a portion of the learning opportunities today’s students have. With growing options for blended and online learning, as well as the power of technology to bring us both information and learning experiences, there is no telling what the future of education could look like. From birth through their careers, learners need a broad range of experiences that develop their skills, dispositions and abilities to succeed. We need to embrace the full spectrum of learning experiences, pre and post K-12, in afterschool and beyond school settings. After all, children learn anywhere and anytime learning happens.

5. 21st Century Learning really can happen everywhere.

No matter what you call “21st century skills,” it’s important to give students hands-on experiences in proving and applying what they know. The good news is there is no single “right” way to do this. You don’t need fancy gadgets or huge budgets to make it happen. It does, however, take a different mindset where educators relinquish some control of the classroom to input from students and allow students to drive their own learning and try out what they know. There are many schools across the country where this is exactly how learning happens, for example at 21st Century Learning Exemplar Schools identified by P21, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. It takes creative ideas about connecting disciplines and working outside the box or the classroom walls. It takes allowing students to take risks, so that they learn deeply from failure. It takes building a learning community that supports both students and teachers. It means giving students to opportunity to communicate their ideas and defend their positions to develop that positive self-identity that is so important to a success attitude.

Bottom line is, we need leaders and innovators who can think critically and creatively, work collaboratively and communicate across cultures, time zones and ZIP codes. We need to support both students and educators so that their learning experience is relevant, rigorous, and valued. I know that working together we can ensure we make the best use of our most precious resource, and make sure that learning continues to be alive and well.

Stephan Turnipseed

Stephan Turnipseed

Stephan Turnipseed is an education thought leader and strategist who is passionate about inspiring children through education and is a proponent of hands-on learning. He is the former President of LEGO® Education North America and most recently served in a global role as the Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships for LEGO® Education. He is the immediate past Chairman for The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. He is a former member the Clinton Global Initiative and immediate past Co-Chair of the Business for Early Childhood Development Task Force organized by the Global Business Coalition for Education and Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.