Katherine Bilsborough: 21st century skills

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In this blog post Katherine Bilsborough uses current trends in education as a springboard for suggesting a few more 21st century skills that our students need to develop.

21st century skills … a few suggestions

The 21st century ends on December 31st 2100 and who knows what our world will look like by then? Will we still have real-world classrooms? Will we have discovered new and more effective ways of learning and understanding? When we consider the advances that have been made in technology over the past 20 years and then consider the fact that advances in technology are being made at an ever-increasing rate, the task of equipping our students with the skills they need for the 21st century is, at best challenging, at worst, impossible.

With this in mind and without dismissing the usual list of 21st skills that are a useful reference, I decided to examine some of the accepted trends in education and to suggest three more 21st skills that would help us to help our students. I invite readers to suggest others that might not have caught my attention.

Trend 1: The great unbundling of education
This refers to the way in which traditional education is being broken down from bigger bundles of knowledge into smaller segments that can be mixed and matched to suit the needs of each prospective learner. The trend is driven by technology and there is no going back. We no longer need to sign up for a bundled learning package. We can pick and choose those elements that are of interest or of use to us, crossing over between curricula and ‘picking and mixing’ like a child in a sweet shop.
21st century skill: Making good choices
We need to help our students learn how to make an informed choice when presented with a sometimes overwhelming range of possibilities. They need to learn how to evaluate their options and understand the responsibility that choice brings and the consequences of their decisions.
Think: How could you introduce more choice into your classes?

Trend 2: Continuous education
Education is no longer something that starts at nursery school and finishes with a university degree or a few years of post graduate study. In the future education will be a constant feature in our lives. This will lead to more purposeful self-development with the possibility of career changes as people retrain themselves as they discover new interests and vocations.
21st century skill: Flexibility
It is imposible to predict the paths that our students will choose but we can help by teaching them how to be flexible. This means learning how to change their ways of working or to change the way they approach a task or demonstrate their skills.
Think: How could you help your students to become more flexible in their studies?

Trend 3: Personalisation of education
This ties in with the previous two trends but focuses on ‘individuality’. Again, technology offers opportunities to modify and hone learning so that it directly caters for an individual’s needs, experiences, pace-of-learning and … dare I mention? … preferred styles of learning.
21st century skill: Knowing what works
For a learner to customise his learning to maximum effect, he needs to try out as many approaches as possible and make a competent analysis of the results. This means stepping outside their perceived comfort zones at times, trying new ways of doing things and learning how to do constructive self-evaluation.
Think: What kind of classroom tasks would help your students discover their most effective ways of learning?

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