DRAFT – Statewide 21st century learning system

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to outline what it takes to get your state or province from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ In other words, what would it take to get from our current system of schooling to a robust, province- or statewide system of 21st century learning? Here’s my first attempt at this task (click on the images for larger versions)…


What needs to be done

The first step is to figure out what needs to happen…


  1. Curricula that emphasize 21st century skills. Instead of simply adding on 21st century skills to our existing content-based standards, put them at the core of new, more focused curricula.
  2. Preservice and inservice training for teachers and administrators. Training in colleges and universities. Training on the job. Regular, frequent, strategic, and ongoing.
  3. Robust statewide online learning infrastructure for students and teachers. Because of resources or geography, high-level and credit recovery courses aren’t available to many students. Training opportunities aren’t available to educators. A vibrant system of online courses can help.
  4. Computing device in every student’s hands. Laptops. Netbooks. Smartphones. Devices that have some power, are mobile, allow students to type, and can access the Internet.
  5. Statewide no-cost or low-cost broadband wireless access. High-speed wireless in every corner of the state.
  6. P-20 coordination, cooperation, and vertical articulation. Curricular, programmatic, workforce development, and other alignment across the P-20 spectrum.

Environmental supports

Some supports need to be in place to facilitate effective implementation…

  1. Federal, state, and local laws, policies, and funding support. A thoughtful, helpful array of legal, policy, and funding supports for what needs to be done.
  2. Monitoring, assessment, and evaluation. Regular, frequent, ongoing. To inform practice, not just for accountability.
  3. Mindset shift. The digital, global age is here. It’s time to learn how to survive and thrive in it rather than being afraid of it or ignoring it.



There’s also a marketing piece to this. Who needs to be informed about what needs to be done in order to facilitate a broad base of support and buy-in?


  1. Parents and community members
  2. School board members and P-12 educators
  3. Postsecondary faculty and officials
  4. Employers
  5. Legislators and policymakers
  6. Media



I’m working on this part…


I could use some help on this not-so-theoretical assignment. This is a draft. I need a final version by November 5.

  • What would your system look like? How would you organize things differently? What did I leave out?
  • How can we calculate some rough, back-of-the-envelope costs of these activities (e.g., just how much would it cost to get wireless broadband across the state)? I could really use some assistance costing this out.
  • How is my thinking flawed? What am I forgetting? What is particularly important to emphasize? What else should I be considering?

Angela Maiers and Mike Sansone have been of great assistance with this first draft (any mistakes or logic flaws are mine alone!). I hope you will be willing to lend your thoughts as well. Thanks in advance!

[Feel free to download and play around with these files: png1 png2 ppt pptx]

17 Responses to “DRAFT – Statewide 21st century learning system”

  1. “Cost

    I’m working on this part…”

    When the budget for our Media Center to buy new books isn’t $0 like it is right now, I’ll be more excited about getting a computing device in every student’s hands. Heck, if we could just get a portable computing device into every TEACHER’S hands in this country, I’d be more excited to start worrying about getting a computing device in every student’s hands.

    We have a district in our state that has spent 1.6 million on edtech. Their graduation rates are still hovering around 55%.

    The fix? We’re spending as much on testing in this country as we are on the Iraq war. Change that first, and then you can change the game.

  2. Another mindset shift…

    The ability to see the value of different school day/year schedules. Our antiquated system does not allow flexibility for all learners. Virtual learning environments and other types of schedules should be valued and encouraged.

  3. I thought it already was the 21st century. Isn’t it kinda late to be asking these questions?

  4. At first review of this, what struck me was the omission of union leaders as an integral part of each component, especially “What needs to get done” and “Marketing.” This would include not only teacher unions but support staff as well because they are affected by the technical aspect of implementation.

    A good person to contact for one-one computers is Leslie Wilson, Director of the One to One Computing Institute in Michigan. Contact information: lesliew@one-to-oneinstitute.org

  5. All very good thoughts! I hate to say this but we have to start at the top to make reform stick. The national agenda on education must change. Education reform needs to be as big a priority as national defense and energy policy! We need our national and state leaders to challenge America to create a system that uses modern technology and 21st Century pedagogy. They not only need to make it a priority and formulate policy, they need to fund it to make it work!

  6. I like what you’ve got going here and it is similar to what we’ve been working to articulate for our own 21c learning initiative. What I’ve bumped up against, though, is that although we’re trying to show the components of this, that the 21c skills/curricula isn’t actually a component. It is the hub. Everything else needs to be in support (and in orbit) of that.

    I like what you said: “Curricula that emphasize 21st century skills. Instead of simply adding on 21st century skills to our existing content-based standards, put them at the core of new, more focused curricula.”

    But I think we need to include 21st century concepts as well. We need to identify and articulate those concepts and skills first, so that all the other components – be they assessments, instructional strategies, environments, resources (technical, physical, financial), etc. are all in service to those concepts and skills.

    I also generally take issue with technology being a goal in and of itself. It has driven changes in the world our students need to be prepared for and it provides fantastic new learning tools/opportunities but using technology isn’t the goal. I’d suggest that if the identified concepts/skills are appropriate then the assessments and instruction will change in order to meet those. It is at that point that teachers will choose the appropriate tools to get the job done.

    So, “top down?” I suppose so, but “top” meaning the universal concepts and essential skills necessary to be successful citizens in the 21st century needs to drive the boat with everything else in support of it.

    This is a subtle, some may say parsing, way to look at it, but I think the simple difference will have profound ripples in the educational landscape.

  7. Scott, what a great framework. I am working on our district 3 year tech plan. I feel I am working in isolation from our state plan. We do have a state plan, but it is not something that I feel I can use in my district. Something like this would be terrific.
    I am in a district with all professional staff on their second round of laptops. I am in a district where we have teacher technology standards. I am in a district where we have wireless in all buildings.In my elementary it is a 5-1 ratio, In my middle school, where we have a state initiative for grades 7-8, those 230 students have 1-1,however, for the remaining 230, we have a 6-1 ratio. Finally, in my high school we have a 4-1 ratio.
    We are still moving along towards the 21st Century.

  8. Just my opinion, but an element that should be addressed is “why”. What’s the business case for 21st century learning as you’ve defined it?

    Why should a system (local, regional, federal) invest in such a thing?

    What are the socio-economic impacts that will be reaized – not just cost?

    When will we see these results, and why should we do this now (say vs. investing $ in healthcare, or any of the other priorities that that government faces)?

    I don’t believe the answers of these can be assumed because they’re so obvious. They’re equally obvious for that drug addict that would like the state to provide more rehab beds, or a homeless person seeking more shelter spaces, or a community seeking better roads, etc. <-- and would you pick (for the short-term politician's mind) one of these or 21st cent education?

  9. Here is one I created back in 1999….it still has some interesting aspects.

  10. One of the biggest areas that we need to take into consideration in the 21st century is the change from a content-based curriculum to a skills-based curriculum. There is so much information out there these days, and all of that content is available at the tip of our fingers…literally! It’s not so important anymore that students are memorizing information, because they can just look up most of it on the internet. As we all know, kids need to learn more about how to find information and how to analyze it for credibility. However, it’s hard to add these skills into a curriculum that still has so much specific content in it. Who has the time? We only have so many hours in the school day. My challenge to other teachers is to let go of some of the content in order to focus on skills and application.

    Also, it’s okay if not all students are learning exactly the same thing. Allow students to do research and see where their explorations take them. It might take them in several different directions, but that’s okay!! We need to encourage curiosity, something that is lacking in today’s young generation.

  11. Dr. Scott,

    Many thanks for your efforts to improve the current system of public education.

    I mentioned to Angela Maiers that it was participating in civic government while my own kids went through public school, combined with hearing the stories from my wife about the woefully unprepared parents that she was encountering as she administered her large, independent, cooperative preschool that indicated to me an unintended consequence of the current method of public education. It was too expensive for the widely unpredictable results and it fostered a perception that education ended at some point and a person was “done.” Implications of this were everywhere I looked: local budget struggles, lack of adult reading, intolerance, and – perhaps the most troubling – those parents who never read a book in the 9 months before their first child arrived and were winging it off of memory and marketing, the blind leading the blind. The only chance to correct it a hundred years from now was to REBOOT.

    After a few years of thinking this through and asking one question of educators, I launched a website to broaden the discussion. The question: “If you could start over with no preconceived notions or memory of what’s been done, what would public education look like?” The website: http://www.allnewpubliceducation.com – consider this an invite to share your thoughts and suggestions on next steps.

    Thanks again, I look forward to a long, fruitful dialog.

  12. What seems to be ignored in all of this is the fact that so many in both the parent and student bodies are already proficient in technology. We need a place where the community is invited to innovate and improve what the schools sytem already has. Schools have never been a welcomed place for public input. I think that educators need to be reinstalled as the experts in education. We have too long had the opinion that education is too improtant to be left to teachers. the effect of business i.e. brazosport etc. on curriculum has been disasterous. Education is not a business and so efficiency can not be a part of the evaluation. Growth of students can, but not efficency of instruction. one other point, the right to public education needs to become lifelong. Maybe if adults felt that they could utilized the same place that their children work they would be more willing to pay the true costs of a quality education. to often skills they lack can only be procured through a great outlay of their own money. if the right to attend was lifelong they could go back anywhere to acquire technical skills that would introduce them to the concepts that you are trying to bring about.

  13. What are 21st skills, and how do they differ from 19th century skills or 20th century skills?

    The only hint here I get is that “21st skills” are not “content-based” skills. But content is vital. Knowledge in your head is very different to knowledge on google – knowledge in your head is immediately accessible, knowledge in your head can be played with, can be used to make surprising connections, and knowledge in your head gives you an idea of what else is out there. I remember once getting a proposal for tidal-based power systems to avoid putting in a new transmission line. I looked at that and automatically knew that it wouldn’t work because:
    1. The tidal power generator wouldn’t run during the slack of the tide.
    2. The time of the tides change each day, so sometimes the tidal power wouldn’t be running during the times of peak demand (which were on a winter evening between 5pm and 7pm).

    What would be my chances of figuring out those were the two things I needed to know, and googling them, if I didn’t already know them?

  14. I agree with the first comment that Larry made….What seems to be ignored in all of this is the fact that so many in both the parent and student bodies are already proficient in technology…
    If we wait for the educational system to start the process, train the teachers, fund the tech support systems, we will be way behind…oh I guess we are already.
    So rethink the process the way inovators have done over the years of progress. Think the change individually. Reference the book ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’.
    Start with one student with a cell phone and build outward, sideways, anyway possible.

  15. Hi, Scott! Happened across your blog this morning and thought I’d put in a bit of a different view. So, here goes.

    The 21st Century, like the 20th, 19th, 18th, and every century going back tens of thousands of years, is about people. Or, as Chris Peterson of the University of Michigan sums up positive psychology, “Other people matter.” So, though I am using technology now, and do so for great parts of every day to accomplish significant portions of my roles both professionally and personally, it’s the people that matter here, not the technology. You and your ideas. Your readers and their responses. Me. Other people matter.

    The same is true for lots of technology. Cell phones are mostly used to chat with family and friends. Email. IM. Blogs. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. Even when I’m using SPSS to analyze data, I am thinking about who will care about that data and how I might communicate it. It’s all about relationships — other people matter.

    With that in mind, what does it say about your question of how best to help school systems better use technology and better prepare technology? My suggestion: think relationships first. Here are two specifics:

    You mention professional development. I agree on it’s importance. It’s what I spend most of my time on (CLE for attorneys). In the education world, however, I think the first step is to organize professional development around small teams of teachers working on self-selected topics. I used the term “Lesson Study” when working on it in my system (http://www.shearonforschools.com/books_lesson_study.htm), but other terms work. Regardless of the exact format, technology can support this process in amazing ways. Rapid access to knowledge about subjects teacher-teams might select for study, better dissemination of the work-products of the teams, and sampling of the general direction of team research for policy makers and administrative leaders concerned about particular areas of student achievement.

    Second possibility: Use technology to provide better data on relationships, positive/negative ratios, and energy networks in schools and schools systems. For example, imagine periodic, random SMS polling of students in a school system about whether they were engaged in the last class they were in, or whether there last interaction with a teacher, coach, or administrator boosted or decreased their energy, commitment, and engagement. Their are lots of possible queries, but technology makes it possible to do this with a frequency and use the results formatively throughout a school year in a way that was not possible before. But it is still the people that matter.

    Thanks for your blog!

  16. The 21st Century Imperative

    Scott McLeod has a very interesting conversation going about a 21st century learning system. One person asked a great question – why all of a sudden is it different? How are this century’s children different from any other century’s and…

  17. The business case for learning

    Very interesting post from Dangerously Irrelevant. One element that is missing is “why”. What’s the business case for 21st century learning? Why should a system (local, regional, federal) invest in such a thing? What are the socio-economic impacts that…

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