21st century learning shifts the focus of learning from memorization to application. Often students think that 21st century learning means using smartphones and tablets daily in a classroom, that all projects and learning activities will be completed on a computer, and that all research will be done on the internet. Now, those are not completely incorrect assumptions, but 21st century learning is more than just using technology to learn content in the classroom; it is also about skill-building and collaborating with students that may not be in your immediate social circle.

dan21st century learning is about problem solving, not rote memorization of facts. It is thinking critically, not expecting all thinking to be done by the teacher or a fellow student. Students must be self-motivated and driven to think and solve today’s complex problems. 21st century learning is learning by doing, which, at times, means learning by failure, a sentiment aptly captured by Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” In the 21st century, we need to realize that real learning comes from doing, failing, learning, doing again, and then succeeding. We want students to be adaptable to the future so when life gives them lemons, they make lemonade. The four major components of 21st century learning are:

  1. Skill building: Skills are essential when preparing students for Upper School, college, and the real world. Teaching skills allow students to be adaptable. Teaching research methods, using debate and discussion in class, and emphasizing problem solving are the types of skills that allow students to engage with content. At Morgan Park Academy, teachers teach skills as a way to engage with the content; they do not just lecture. As a history teacher, I love the content that I teach. History is my passion and I want to share that passion with my students and help them to become better writers, researchers, debaters, creators, and students than when they entered my classroom.
  2. Collaboration: This 21st century skill is one of the most necessary in education and society today. As the world continues to become smaller because of new technology changing the world daily, students need to learn to be able to work with those that have differing viewpoints and different abilities as them. It is not always easy to work with someone that you may or may not be friends with, but those opportunities can bring about the most real learning. Being challenged by a different viewpoint or a way of completing assignments can bring out true collaboration. Steven Spielberg stated, when I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it’s you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” What Mr. Spielberg describes is what 21st century learning is all about. Appreciate the different talents around you and realize that there is not always one way to get to the answer.
  3. Problem solving and critical thinking vs. rote memorization: This 21st century skill is the most important in my opinion. Today, we have iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, iPads, and Macbooks that are all connected to the internet. The internet gives students access to knowledge from the beginning of recorded history and predicts what will happen in the future. So why teach students to memorize facts, figures, and functions? Instead of focusing on memorizing content, 21st century learning challenges students to see a problem, then solve it. Collectively as an educational community, students, parents, and teachers need to realize that knowing lots of factual information is not preparing students to think on their feet.
  4. Learning by doing: This 21st century skill manifests in Lower School and classes like art and music. Of course we “do” in those classes. Called Project Based Learning (PBL), PBL has become an important change in the way students approach learning. PBL takes all of the 21st century learning skills and puts them together to complete the ultimate task. Learning in a way that will not only challenge students, but challenge the world they are going to inherit from us.

21st century skills may be the new buzzwords in education, but they are so much more than that. These skills represent good teaching. Students need to be able to explore,fail, and pick themselves back up once and awhile. Students need to work within a group and realize they might not be the leader every time, but that they are still an important part of the group. Students need to use technology in an appropriate way to make learning more accessible to them so they may solve the problems posed to them during class. Parents need to support these 21st century learning skills and cultivate an environment where exploration and curiosity drive learning,not grades. Teachers need to adapt to the student of today and meet them in their world, instead of the other way around. In closing, education is a place of wonder and exploration and every day I learn something new because of the talent, drive, and care that students at Morgan Park Academy put into their education.


By Daniel Peters

Mr. Peters teaches Middle School social studies and coaches basketball and golf. He also is our Middle School Assistant Principal.