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Sunday 10 May 2015

Learning for the 21st Century: how to succeed in the digital age of globalisation

Rapid technological advancement and globalisation create new demands for the world of education. Current generation of school pupils needs to be prepared for multiple career changes and this necessitates life-long learning. So what does it mean for schools and the curricula delivered?

‘Knowledge’ in the traditional sense of fact-finding can no longer provide adequate basis for the 21st century learning, where ‘knowledge’ needs to be seen as a competence and a result of in-depth learning leading to the acquisition of new skills. Therefore during the learning process, it is crucial to bridge knowledge-based material with the skills needed not only for the application of the learnt material but, ultimately, work on developing new skills required for creating new solutions. This equates with progress which has never been as rapid as during the digital age.

This focus on learning mastery (in-depth learning for understanding) undoubtedly has implications on classroom learning and teaching strategies used. Drawing on the research into what makes successful learners (Boekaerts, Dweck, Shunk, Stipek), I would suggest that at the core of effective learning is the mastery of learning independence, where the learners are capable of making their own learning decisions. Moreover, learning independence leads to learning sustainability, which is essential for successful career development in the 21st century, and beyond. Aiming for achieving learning independence by actively involving pupils in their learning and teaching them to think in critical, creative and evaluative terms through problem solving, investigative tasks or application of the learnt material to new situations, should be at the heart of any 21st century curriculum.

Since assessment is often the curriculum driver as it leads to gaining new competencies and qualifications, its role and its quality are absolutely crucial in the changing educational landscape. The way pupils are assessed has an impact on developing reasoning and higher order thinking skills, such as analytical skills, evaluative skills, critical thinking or creative skills, for example. The ability to think effectively by possessing these higher order thinking skills will become invaluable in the future success at work and will shape the individual learning independence. Globalisation, new technologies and social networking opportunities for professional growth and business development create endless opportunities for new solutions to old and new problems. Talents can be developed and educational systems aimed at advancing appropriate skills-based education rooted in learning mastery of key concepts, will have the capacity to create independent learners capable of thinking for themselves.

In the world, where new knowledge can be found at a touch of a button, learning is changing. It is no longer confined to the mere fact acquisition and its social aspect of interaction with others or resources, including technologies, is fundamental to gaining new skills, competencies or qualifications. The capacity for instant feedback, for example for goods or services available on-line, has an impact on the changing role of assessment and how feedback is perceived. As effective feedback is key to any improvement and the concept of feedback is being accepted as part of everyday life, teaching students evaluative skills through self-reflection or peer-evaluation is another essential skill for learning in the 21st century. It also extends to developing essential critical evaluation skills – the ability to think critically about the found evidence or new ‘knowledge’.

Effective learning in the 21st century requires learners to be active participants in the learning processes in order to maximise opportunities for problem solving and developing learning independence. Classroom strategies based on formative approaches to assessment as integral part of the learning process create conducive learning environments for fostering the skills needed for success in the digital age, where there is no ceiling to learning. Utilising smart technologies and virtual learning environments for greater engagement with learning, provide more ideal opportunities for developing higher order thinking skills of analysis or creativity, and can be used to embed independent learning essential to future success.

It is important for the qualification providers to recognise the changing needs for the 21st century learning so the qualifications reflect the skills which are required for successful employment or further education in the highly competitive global economy.