An emphasis on project-based learning is perhaps the most important teaching technique in terms of allowing students to learn in a relevant 21st century context. Classrooms need to be designed and run in a collaborative manner to spur creativity and innovation and encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
One of the cornerstones of 21st century learning is preparing students for the work environment they will face upon graduation by instilling the life and career skills they will need.
Flexibility and adaptability for example are imperative; building these skills through classroom design will allow them to become flexible and adjust to different roles, schedules and contexts going forward.
They must also possess initiative and a comfort working independently, which necessitates a learning environment in which can be self-directed learners, going beyond a basic familiarity of a skill to expand upon their own knowledge and “take charge” of their learning.
But just as important as this self-direction are the social and cross-cultural skills they need to exceed. Implementing more project-based learning is the most important technique to make students more comfortable working in diverse teams, managing their progress and producing results in a group context.
In addition, working with students from other social and cultural backgrounds will also help them develop empathy and become more open-minded. Once students are imbued with these skills, they will develop an awareness about their place in the world and will then be able to take leadership roles inside and outside of the classroom.
In order to achieve these 21st century goals and create a 21st century learning environment, students must also possess the digital fluency they need to compete in an ever-changing world.
The first of three components of this fluency is information literacy; students need to have the ability to access and evaluate information in a timely and efficient manner. Encouraging independent on-line research is a great first step.
As they conduct research, they need to achieve media literacy, understanding how different viewpoints are presented in media and then using a variety of digital tools to be able to produce their own media products.
Lastly, they must exhibit a comfort using ICT (Information, Communications & Technology) which is the digital technologies such as tablets, computers and media players that are utilized in the classrooms.
They need to be able to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information using these resources in order to be prepared for the globally-connected world that awaits them.
The next logical question is how best to create this forward-thinking learning environment? Too often, schools rush to fill their classrooms with laptops and tablets, but fail to examine the classroom structure that underlies the learning experience.
In order to create a truly enriching learning environment, a more methodical approach must be taken, examining the design of the classroom, the teacher’s space and the student’s independent and collaborative work areas.
The best starting point is the classroom design. Ideally, schools should replace single desk and chairs in favor of larger desks/tables that are more compatible with discovery learning and problem-solving.