21st Century Learning Environments

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills in the US has just released a white paper titled 21st Century Learning Environments, (324Kb PDF) which has been my most significant find this month (and likely to be a key focus of my thinking for the next few months!). Through the discussions in NZ over recent months about the use of LMSs, and recent posts I’ve made about VLEs in the UK, I’ve been also thinking about my experience through last year with Albany Senior High School and the amount of thinking and work that went into the design of the physical environment – and how the whole set of these ideas are actually linked. We need to stop thinking about online environments as separate from the physical spaces we teach and learn in, and begin mapping the similar sets of principles and objectives that inform both.

The P21CS white paper captures so much of what I’ve been thinking brilliantly, and lays out some of those principles and ideas in a way that makes it easy to understand and engage with. it states;

The term “learning environment” suggests place and space – a school, a classroom, a library. And indeed, much 21st century learning takes place in physical locations like these. But in today‟s interconnected andtechnology-driven world, a learning environment can be virtual, online, remote; in other words, it doesn‟t have to be a place at all. Perhaps a better way to think of 21st century learning environments is as thesupport systems that organize the condition in which humans learn best – systems that accommodate the unique learning needs of every learner and support the positive human relationships needed for effective learning. Learning environments are the structures, tools, and communities that inspire students and educators to attain the knowledge and skills the 21st century demands of us all.

Experts say 21st century learning must take place in contexts that “promote interaction and a sense of community [that] enable formal and informal learning.”

The last statement about enabling formal and informal learning appeals to me, particularly in light of the ideas in my previous post about public pedagogy and video games, where I referred to the work of Gee and Haynes who aregue for a reconceptualisation of the way in which we think about formal and informal learning.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s vision is that…

..the 21st century learning environment as an aligned and synergistic system of systems that:

  • Creates learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes
  • Supports professional learning communities that enable educators to collaborate, share best practices, and integrate 21st  century skills into classroom practice
  • Enables students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work)
  • Allows equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies, and resources
  • Provides 21st century architectural and interior designs for group, team, and individual learning.
  • Supports expanded community and international involvement in learning, both face-to-face and online

The white paper goes on to explore the principles that would support such environments by examining the structures, time, tools and communities for learning, with a final section devoted to policy issues.

I hope we’ll see, during 2009, more discussion stemming from this holistic view of learning environments, and avoid continuing to make the now arbitary distinction between online and face to face (or home, or learning centre, or local museum or workplace for that matter!!!) as a learning environment.

IMHO this may also help to provide the “compelling reason” schools are searching for as to why they should be adopting and using LMSs/VLEs which in turn may help take them from the level of a “cottage industry” to something more integrate and integral to the teaching and learning that takes place in our school system.

One thought on “21st Century Learning Environments

  1. The white paper is very timely in light of the 819 billion stimulus package proposal (passed in the house), that calls for 14 billion for renovation and modernization of elementary and secondary schools. I particularly like the white paper’s mention of of the ‘Redesign Your School’ Contest sposored annually by the American Architectural Foundation and Target stores, in which students compete in innovative design, as well and the paper’s mention of the focus on green design student projects. Involving the local community in the new construction and design makes sense as well. You are right in that the physical space of a virtual learner matters, and the paper has done a great job in bringing this to focus. I help deliver online courses to high schools thoughout the state and I am currently very interested in this entire issue of what the labs look like now and what they might look like a few years from now.

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