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Learning: A Model for the 21st Century

Goal: All learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences both in and outside of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.

Our education system today supports learning mostly in classrooms and from textbooks and depends on the relationship between individual educators and their students. The role technology plays in the nation’s classrooms varies dramatically depending on the funding priorities of states, districts, and schools and individual educators’ understanding of how to leverage it in learning in meaningful ways.

Meanwhile, many students’ lives outside school are filled with technology that gives them mobile access to information and resources 24/7, enables them to create multimedia content and share it with the world, and allows them to participate in online social networks and communities where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things. According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8- to 18-year-olds today devote an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes to using entertainment media in a typical day – more than 53 hours a week (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2009). The opportunities, access, and information are limitless, borderless, and instantaneous.

Technology brings similar opportunities to professionals in many fields. Physicians use mobile Internet access devices to download X-rays and test results or to access specialized applications such as medicine dosage calculators. Earthquake geologists install underground sensors along fault lines, monitor them remotely, and tie them into early warning systems that signal the approach of seismic waves. Filmmakers use everyday computers and affordable software for every phase of the filmmaking process – from editing and special effects to music and sound mixing. Technology dominates the workplaces of most professionals and managers in business, where working in distributed teams that need to communicate and collaborate is the norm.

The challenge for our education system is to leverage technology to create relevant learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. We live in a highly mobile, globally connected society in which young Americans will have more jobs and more careers in their lifetimes than their parents. Learning can no longer be confined to the years we spend in school or the hours we spend in the classroom: It must be life-long, life-wide, and available on demand (Bransford et al., 2006).

To prepare students to learn throughout their lives and in settings far beyond classrooms, we must change what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, and where and when they learn and change our perception of who needs to learn. We must bring 21st century technology into learning in meaningful ways to engage, motivate, and inspire learners of all ages to achieve.

The challenging and rapidly changing demands of our global economy tell us what people need to know and who needs to learn. Advances in learning sciences show us how people learn. Technology makes it possible for us to act on this knowledge and understanding.

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