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Three New Pillars

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					The Three New Pillars of 21st Century Learning
What happens when our basic assumptions about schooling no longer apply?

By:
Rob Mancabelli
District Administration, April 2012




The textbook, the lecturer and the classroom are three pillars of modern-day schooling that date
back hundreds of years. Each was invented to solve a problem.

The textbook was invented because information was scarce, the lecturer because teachers were
few and the classroom because learning was local. These enduring icons persist into the Internet
age, shaping our view of learning and driving the popularity of their digital grandchildren, things
like iPad “textbooks” and the Kahn Academy “lectures.”

There’s just one catch – these problems don’t exist anymore. In the 21st Century, the Internet has
ushered in an online learning environment where information is abundant, teachers are plentiful
and learning is global. If you’re connected, you can select your own content, choose your own
teachers and decide the time and place for your learning. It’s a personalized, mobile, student-
driven environment that changes the game for educators, but it can’t penetrate the walls of our
schools until we knock down the old pillars supporting the current system.

To put it simply – we need new pillars for learning. We need to think through the implications of
an “always-on” global network of people and information for our curriculum, instruction and
assessment. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that this environment changes everything, and that the
current pillars are crumbling and can’t be repaired. I think it will take a while to get the new
pillars right, but I submit the following as a starting point for the conversation – three new pillars
of learning for the 21st Century.

Pillar #1: “I’m only one of my students’ teachers, but I’m the most important because I teach
them to connect to all the others.”
Implication area: Instruction

This is perhaps the most fundamental shift in our assumptions – how we envision the role of the
teacher in the classroom. In a connected world, the times of a teacher flying solo are over. Every
educator needs to embrace a new role, in which they see themselves as a facilitator, connecting
students not only to information, but more importantly, to a network of teachers that spans the
globe. It’s possible that, in the future, schools will evaluate instruction with the question, “how
many teachers are in each classroom?”

Pillar #2: “My students should learn from me how to learn without me.”
Implication area: Curriculum

Being a lifelong learner is in the mission statement of most schools, but this goal has never been
more attainable than it is today. When thinking about the curriculum at your school, ask yourself
“When do they learn to build networks of learning?” At what grade in elementary school do
experts start working with students in the classroom? We need to insert into our content teaching
how to build networks quickly, safely and effectively. It’s these networks that will sustain our
students’ learning long after they’ve left our schools.

Pillar #3: “My students’ knowledge lies not only in their minds but in their networks.”
Implication area: Assessment

This might be the hardest shift of all – changing our assessments to recognize that a person’s
knowledge is no longer limited to their brain, but is extended by their network. One of the core
skills we need to measure is a student’s ability to retrieve information quickly and efficiently by
leveraging their personal network of people and information. In fact, schools may need to
envision a culminating assessment, wherein graduating students need to demonstrate a
personalized, mature, and diversified global network.

Building a new foundation is never easy, especially since we don’t have the luxury of knocking
down our current systems of schooling and starting over.

But we need to have the courage to not just digitize the textbook, the lecture and the classroom.
We need to have the courage to create new pillars, based on new assumptions. Only then will our
school really arrive at 21st Century learning.

Rob Mancabelli is a speaker, writer and education consultant. He is the co-author of Personal
Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education (Solution Tree
Press, 2011).

				
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posted:4/19/2012
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