Partnership for 21st Century Skills Calls for Reevaluation of Learning Environments

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The Partnership for 21st Century Skills released a new report Friday calling for a reevaluation of what we define as learning environment and advocating some sweeping changes in the spaces, tools, policies, and other aspects of education that the group characterized as urgently in need of reform.

The report, "21st Century Learning Environments," suggested that the learning environments of the 21st century need to move away from Industrial Age conceptions that "mimicked the industrial forms that had so sweepingly transformed the workplace." That is, learning environments need to move away from a model in which schools mimic factories with their fixed structures, inflexible schedules, and various barriers designed for uniformity as both a means and an end. Instead, education systems should embrace the concept of "whole environments for the whole child."

Specifically, the paper advocates (among other things):

  • Flexible, shared, and sustainable learning spaces, rather than fixed, inflexible cookie-cutter school designs;
  • Flexibility in time and schedules, including the length of class periods, seat time, and the length of an academic year;
  • Full access to digital tools and media resources and a melding of online and face to face learning;
  • Expanded teacher and student support for technology use; and
  • A reconsideration of what makes a community of learners, including learning communities for education professionals.

"The term 'learning environment' suggests place and space--a school, a classroom, a library," according to the report. "And indeed, much 21st century learning takes place in physical locations like these. But in today‟s interconnected and technology-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 the support 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."

"It is critical that 21st century learning environments address the multiple and interconnected needs of the whole child," said Paige Kuni, chair of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and worldwide manager of K-12 education for Intel, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "Learning supports are only valuable if they effectively reinforce human relationships, give relevance to learning and encourage student engagement. Schools must devote themselves to more than the mind-body connection to ensure student achievement."

The complete report is available now as a PDF on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills' site. Further information can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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