I have a colleague at work, let’s call him Yoshi. Yoshi hates the terms 21st century learner and 21st century education. He does not believe in these terms and is open about his thoughts against them. And I can see where he is coming from, the world has changed so much in the last 15 years, children now are learning and living in a world that is just so different from anything we could have imagined last century. For example, the iPhone was not released until 2007. The iPad was not released until 2010. Theoretically, those born in 2001 and those born yesterday are both 21st century learners, but they way that they have learned and will learn will be very different. These are only changes within the last decade, imagine the world of the learning in 50 years time? The change will be outstanding.
I agree with Yoshi to some extent, but I also feel that there was a huge paradigm shift at the turn of the century. The introduction, acceptance and access to the internet really changed the world and along with it, education. Teaching and learning have not been the same since. In the article How Are Students’ Roles Changing in the New Economy of Information? Shawn McCusker argues,
“Where teachers once lectured about important ideas and events, or shared their acquired knowledge with their students, today’s classrooms can see every key primary source document, the actual notes of great scientists, and a limitless amount of literary criticism.”
This paradigm shift should have changed every first world classroom. It’s estimated that 91% of US middle school students say they can text and access the internet from their own cellphone, according to 2011 study by Stephanie Englander of Bridgewater University. The fact that almost every middle school students can access the internet at any moment, where ever they are, whenever they need to is completely different to the classrooms we were taught in. This easy access to information along with the ability to communicate and collaborate through space and time is what I believe sets a 21st century learner apart. So the term 21st century education is still relevant, no matter if we are discussing it now, or in 2099, because it differentiates between a traditional classroom approach and one where information is everywhere. It helps frame our approach to education and learning and helps us to remember that there was a huge shift in our lives, one we could not imagine living without.