Technology and 21st Century Learning

You’ve probably heard of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. There’s a good chance you think it is mostly about technology in the classroom. But that’s a misconception.

The 21st Century Learning Initiative has more to do with applying a Constructivist approach to learning to the pedagogy of the classroom than it has to do with technology. If I had to describe the 21st Century Learning Initiative, I would phrase it something like this: It is the conceptual space where modern brain research, Constructivist learning theory, school reform, and the demands of the 21st Century workplace come together.

One of the fascinations that I have with the movement is this. On the one hand, I’m a special education teacher; special education, more than any other field of education, seems to cling to Behaviorist learning theory. On the other hand, I have a background in linguistics and a profound interest in reading education, and I know that language behavior is the place where Behaviorism is least useful in explaining or predicting learning.

Ultimately, the 21st Century Learning Initiative seems to be about promoting higher level thinking skills in the classroom and making the educational experience (particularly at the secondary level) relevant to life outside the classroom and after high school. That is where technology comes in. Technology is a tool for the 21st Century, it is a context for life in the coming decades. Students need to be able to cope with it and use it productively. But while productivity might imply familiarity with the tools, it places more emphasis on what students actually write when they use a word processor than on whether the students can use a word processer.

An example of this idea is a book I reviewed recently by Ted McCain. McCain is a technology person and an educator who writes and speaks about 21st Century Learning. I reviewed his book Teaching for Tomorrow: Teaching Content and Problem Solving Skills. To be honest, I was pretty hard on McCain. While he said things I didn’t like, the truth is that chapter three of his book provides an excellent approach to teaching problem solving. And his book illustrates my point: he’s a technology person who seems (in this book at least) more concerned with thinking skills than technology proficiency.

For any of you who have read McCain’s book, I’ll leave you with this question: Was I too hard on McCain?

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

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