What is a 21st Century Learner?

21st century learner

Understanding the 21st Century Learner

There’s a new breed of learners in our midst. This generation of learners are unlike any generations before them. They’ve grown up in a world surrounded by digital technology and are being asked to meet higher academic standards. They believe that asking “why” is just as (or even more) important as asking “how”. This group of students are also expected to understand concepts, algorithms and theories at a much deeper level than ever before. This group of learners are called the “21st Century Learners”.

What are the characteristics of a 21st Century Learner?

They are unlike any other generation before them (and that’s how they like it). Here are some indicators that you have a 21st Century learner on your hands (other than their age):

  1. Open to change: Change is no big deal in their eyes, it’s just a part of life and they embrace it.
  2. Take control of their education: They respond better when their voices are heard and they have the opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions.
  3. Technologically capable: They’ve never lived in an era without computers.
  4. Belief in the power of collaboration: They can be part of a team and socialise with others amazingly well.
  5. Hands-on approach: Sitting down and listening isn’t enough for them. They want to learn by doing.
  6. Multicultural awareness and appreciation: This generation is more aware and accepting of other cultures, have knowledge of other countries and are open to exploring.
  7. Connected at all times, anywhere and on their own terms: They want to connect and socialise with peers/family in real-time, in their own way, on their own terms.
  8. Trial and error is necessary: They have a “can-do” attitude and are open to trying new things even if there is a chance of failure.
  9. Demand freedom to be creative: They believe they have a part to play in this world and want to let their creativity shine.
  10. Critical-thinkers: They question things if they don’t understand and are more interested in the “why”.

The 4 C’s of a 21st Century Learner

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national organisation advocating for 21st century readiness explains the main pillars for a 21st century learner.

1. Creativity and Innovation

21st century learners believe in sharing their creativity and they don’t want to hold back. They aren’t scared of failure, instead, they are motivated by it. These students use a wide range of techniques to brainstorm ideas. They will have big, radical ideas but you’ll find they’ve also got practical ideas. They believe there are endless opportunities available out there if they just use their creativity, and innovate.

These students also collaborate with others in a creative way. Gone are the days of presenting an idea only through Powerpoint. They want to show how creative and innovative they can be by coming up with a video, blog or even website to best represent their ideas to others. In a group setting, they are open-minded to what others have to say and accepting of other people’s ideas and creativity.

2. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Critical thinking is about the students learning how to evaluate, analyse and solve problems in any subject and even beyond their K-12 education. Teachers help students look at problems through different perspectives and angles rather than simply repeating and memorising the “right answer”. Having open-ended problems will encourage students to think differently, find a creative solution and analyse the outcome.

3. Collaboration

Now, collaboration plays a huge part in the student’s learning outcomes. With the easy access to connect with people around the world, it’s become much more important to learn to collaborate with people from all over the world. They learn to work with people who are from different cultures and have different values from their own.

Collaboration is about working together to find the best solution. In a group, you will have different personalities who have different strengths and weaknesses. Students learn to play to their strengths and allow others to step up in order to form a dynamic team.

4. Communication

21st century learners expect transparency and honesty from parents, teachers and peers. They are open to hearing what others have to say and want to connect. They are social by nature in various different forms of communication. They are likely talking to people on 6 different apps and enjoy having conversations with others.

These students know how to articulate their thoughts and ideas using oral, verbal and non-verbal communication. They enjoy using multiple media devices, technologies and apps to present their creative ideas. 21st century learners are unafraid to communicate their thoughts and ideas in unconventional/new ways; in fact, they embrace the opportunity to do so.

Welcome to the 21st Century

Once upon a time, the role of an educator was to facilitate and prepare students for specific tasks for a specific job (doctor, lawyer, trade, etc.) But we don’t live in this world anymore. Society is changing and being more “community-driven”, globally accepting and adapting technology for a variety of different uses.

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