Teaching and Learning Resources

Twenty-First Century

What do we know about today’s “new” students? Most obviously, we know that those who are seventeen and coming from high school (“Millenial”) are heavily influenced by information technology. There are also those in their twenties coming from college (“Gen-X”) or in their forties (“Baby Boomer”) who have delayed enrollment and whose expectations and experiences are very different. They may be studying full-time or part-time, distance or e-learners, financially independent, or single parents. 21st Century students come from a variety of backgrounds.

Research suggests that today’s students are increasingly more focused on a consumer mindset, educational return on their investment, careerism and juggling school, family and work (Cote & Allahar, 2007). Do the generations’ defining characteristics such as requiring more structure, guidance and feedback warrant changes in the way we educate them? It is also clear that many employers today claim that new employees lack the level and skills necessary (such as critical thinking and reading, and communication skills) to be successful in today’s business world (Feiertag & Berge, 2008).  There is much research and literature that both supports and challenges the view that higher education must accommodate these learners. So, what does this mean for faculty who are teaching these “new” students?

Many educational experts suggest a shift in our institutional perspective towards the adult learning theory which calls for a more practical approach to education. It is a model that is based on learning that is self-directed, problem-centered, experience based, and more often relevant to life rather than the more traditional, teacher-centered approach.
The following list of “Ten 21st Century Statements about Learning” offers a framework to consider the skills of today’s learners.


                                                 Ten 21st Century Statements about Learning

1. Learning is purposeful and contextual. Learning that is framed by relevant questions, meaningful  challenges, and authentic applications help students to see the purpose in what they are asked to learn.  
2. Experts organize or chunk their knowledge around transferable, core concepts (“big
    ideas”) that guide their thinking about the domain and help them integrate new
    knowledge. Therefore, content instruction should be framed in terms of core ideas and
    transferable processes, not as discrete facts and skills.
3. Learning is mediated and enhanced through different types of thinking, such as
    classification and categorization, inferential reasoning, analysis, synthesis, and
    metacognition. Therefore, learning events should engage students in complex thinking
    to deepen and apply their learning.
4. Understanding is revealed and demonstrated when learners can apply/transfer/adapt their learning to new and novel situations and problems. Therefore, teachers should teach for
    transfer and students should have multiple opportunities to apply their learning in
    meaningful and varied contexts.
5. New learning is built on prior knowledge. Learners use their experiences and background
    knowledge to actively construct meaning about themselves and the world around them.
    Therefore, students must be helped to actively connect new information and ideas to what
    they already know.
6. Learning is social. Therefore, teachers should provide opportunities for interactive
    learning in a supportive environment.
7. Attitudes and values mediate learning by filtering experiences and perceptions.
   Therefore, teachers should help students make their attitudes and values explicit and
   understand how it influences their learning.
8. Learning is non-linear; it develops and deepens over time. Therefore, students should be
   involved in revisiting core ideas and processes so as to develop deeper and more
   sophisticated learning over time.
9. Feedback enhances learning and performance. On-going assessments provide learners with regular,timely, and user-friendly feedback, along with the opportunity to use it to practice, retry, rethink, and revise.
10. Learning is enhanced when a learner’s preferred learning style, prior knowledge and
    interests are effectively accommodated. Therefore, teachers should pre-assess to find out
    students’ prior knowledge, learning preference and interests. They should differentiate
    their instruction to address the significant differences they discover.

*Adapted from ten learning principles originally published in Jay McTighe and Elliott Seif, An
Implementation Framework to Support 21st Century Skills, Chapter 7 in Bellanca and Brandt (2010),
21stCentury skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (Solution Tree Press). p. 153. These ten principles may
be duplicated and shared for educational purposes. All or part of these principles may not be published
without the express permission of the authors.

Related Resources
 The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is an American association that advocates for the readiness of students for the 21st Century. It provides many tools and resources for educators.
A description of Adult Learning Theory with a multitude of resources and strategies to support learning.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Preparing for the Future: Identifying Advanced Essential Skills Project Steering Committee. May 2003. A publication funded by the Government of Canada represented by Association of Community Colleges (ACCC) and Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE)
An intriguing and informative video that summarizes important characteristics of how students today learn, and what they need to learn.