18 Aug 2020

What is a 21st Century Learner and Why is it Important?

Published by Admin

By Wayne Owen, Lead Teacher, Woodland Pre-Schools Beachside

We are living in a rapidly changing world, and education is changing with it. The children we are teaching now will enter a very different workplace that bears no resemblance to what we are familiar with. Entering the 4th Revolution and A.I., we need to adapt and prepare our children for their future. A recent research project at the University of Minnesota found employees place soft skills such as problem-solving and the ability to effectively collaborate high on their list of requirements. To give our children the best possible chance of success, we need to help them develop these skills.

Traditionally, learners have been taught in a more instructional based way, with the teacher leading the learning, with the direction and flow of learning coming from the teacher. A 21st-century learner approach reverses this and places the child at the center, so they have greater ownership and participation in the learning that takes place. The teacher and learner collaborate and co-construct, allowing input from both.

The ability to think through ideas, be agile in their thinking, communicate and work with others effectively are the new 21st Century skills.


How Can We Foster Such Learning?

Give your child space

As the adult, it is natural to want to jump in at any point and help your child. However, give your child the space and time to start developing their own problem-solving skills.  Give them the opportunity to think through ideas, make mistakes and create new solutions. Instead of immediately offering a solution, ask some simple questions to help move your child’s thinking on.

Challenge is good

Let your child struggle.  Allow your child to be exposed to challenges so they can learn how to overcome them. This builds resilience and an understanding they can work through a challenge.  If you child continues to be challenged, give some timely input to help the thinking process, without just giving the solution.

Hands-on activities

Hands-on activities work well for this learning style as they encourage the child to experiment to find solutions to the problem in front of them. Rather than using toys that encourage a certain outcome, we can use more open-ended materials that help our children show more problem solving and creativity.  These could be a variety of loose parts, from shells, buttons, pot lids, stones, twigs, bottle caps, fabric – now they can build their own garage, house, car, teddy bear or even design their own garden or toy factory.

Ask open-ended questions

By asking open-ended questions you are giving an opportunity for thinking time and not just directing a child towards what the adult sees as the ‘correct’ answer.  Children are incredibly amazing at finding different solutions to a problem or a question.  Also, encourage your child to ask questions, then work with them to find the answer.

Have a flexible approach to the outcome

An activity with a fixed outcome, you are essentially asking a child to copy or mimic an exact result. By having more flexibility, you are allowing a child to find a different route to an outcome they desire. For example, if your child decides to make model butterflies, allow your child to think of different materials and techniques they want to use to form their butterfly. The final product may not be what we had anticipated, but it is the process your child went through where the learning occurred.

In our play-based inquiry settings, the soft skills of 21st-century learning are highly valued at Woodland Pre-Schools. Through rethinking our notion of 21st Century learning, you too can support the development of these skills at home.

If you would like to read more into this topic, I would highly recommend a book from 2005 entitled ’Catching the Knowledge Wave?’ By Jane Gilbert.

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