Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Learning in the 21st century

The topic of 21st century skills has become a buzzword in English Language Teaching recently, and although more and more people are talking about it, there is a bit of uncertainty about whether they are anything new - anything specific to the 21st century. 
Well, they are and they aren't. Learning is learning: acquiring new skills, building on and expanding knowledge, gathering experiences and so on. This has always been true, and it is still true in the 21st century. People in the past certainly used all four Cs: the four essential learning skills that are the cornerstones of 21st century learning: Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creativity. (You see? Nothing new.)
What has changed in recent decades, and certainly in my own lifetime, is the pace of change: by the time we acquire knowledge, it may well be obsolete. By the time we learn skills, we already need to update them (a bit like the shiny new software package you buy and install, which then insists on updating itself immediately before it's even willing to run, as it's already 'critically out of date'). 
So, what is to be done? What we need to become good at, and what we, teachers, need to train our students to become good at is the skill of learning itself. The skill to adapt. And that's what we talk about when we talk about 21st century learning skills. In a very tight nutshell, obviously. It's more complicated than this, but should you wish to learn more, I suggest you look up my previous related post on the subject with more details. Or download the materials I used in my recent workshop at the IATEFL Hungary Creative Café event (on 1 July, Budapest at the Libra Bookshop) with some practical suggestions for classroom activities to develop each of the four skills. (Although it goes without saying that a language class aimed at developing communication skills is already well-equipped to develop one of the Cs: Communication...)
There's still another 84 years of this century left, so I'm sure we'll have some further opportunities to explore the issue of 21st century learning - I'll keep you posted.

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