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Can we stop using the term ’21st Century Learning’?

In the late 1990s as I was starting my career in teaching and my work in learning technologies, I often used the term 21st century learning as a reference to the future, which I think worked well as we were approaching the excitement of a new millennium which I saw as an opportunity to challenge the norms and look at the potential that technology offered. However, when Big Ben struck midnight on the 31st December 1999, and the millennium bug turned out to have not been the issue many feared, I instantly stopped using the term 21st Century learning, as that was no longer the future but the present.

Big Ben (b&w)

It slightly worries me that in 2012, people (and this includes lots of high profile conference titles) are still using the term as prevalently as they are. We are more than 12 years into this century, that’s an eighth of the way through. Things are very different now to what they were 12 years ago, and nobody knows what the next 80 odd years will look like (realistically no-one knows what the next 5 years will bring), so how can we sensibly use a term that covers 100 years, and refers to the past, present, and future all at the same time.

In general I am not interested in working in the past, I am interested in the present and the future (and roughly only the next 5 years of the future) – so why can’t we use a term that reflects this, rather than the blanket ’21st century learning’.

After playing around with various combinations I would like to propose the term ‘teaching and learning’ as an alternative.

I expect a few people to disagree with me here, but thought this post would be good food for thought!


6 Responses

  1. all good points and no feathers ruffled here, but perhaps the term has clung on because there are significant chunks of the teaching population who remain convinced it is 1997?

  2. 21st century learning in most ways does not look much different to 20th century stuff, in my view. For many years, we have understood that Teaching is the behaviour that needs to be rested a little to ensure that students acquire the ambition to think and plan for themselves. The older the pupils, the more they can be given their head, so long as the teacher is very aware of the precision with which such freedom needs to be managed.

    • I think the key point there, is as my post eluded to – teaching and learning didn’t just radically change at the stroke of midnight – but is a constantly evolving and changing process, it always has been and always will be.

      • I agree with you Dave. I pondered that very same question and came up with the same answer as you!

        I think the only other term I use is learning innovation with reference to how modes or learning and use of technology can be continually improved.

      • Interesting that you agree with my thoughts – I like the idea of having innovation in the title – but there is a risk that the term innovation gets warped into meaning ‘what has just happened’ rather than ‘what is about to happen’….

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