26 August 2012

21st Century Skill Sets and Beyond

“Information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, interpersonal and self-directional skills” This list has become the mantra of teachers reciting the skills they should be helping students acquire. Unfortunately, what students need to learn is much more than a list of skills. Beyond these skill sets, students will need to understand their own learning process. Many of the above skill sets are a part of that learning process, but each individual learns in a unique way. By mastering the learning process and, therefore, knowing how to research, study and retain knowledge, students will be equipped to face the challenges that will emerge in the 21st century. This means that rather than learning particular or specialized skill sets, which individuals will then take to work and execute, students will need to be able to learn the emerging skill sets that are required of a dynamic work environment. In order to help students achieve this in the classroom, teachers will need to focus equally on making the awareness and development of a learning style a part of the curriculum. This is partially a metacognitive approach to learning and teaching, but it must move beyond that into the development of good learning habits and how to adapt one’s learning style to the material. This process seems to also necessarily involve ownership of the learning process. It seems that to help students become good and life-long learners, we must help them to understand what we know as teachers.

To be skilled workers in the 21st century means that not only do individuals have to have niche knowledge and skill sets, but the ability to learn new skill sets and adapt to emerging innovations and technologies. It is this ability to learn that is required now and will continue to important in the future. Teaching, in and of itself, is a perfect example of the kind of career that requires specific knowledges and skill sets, but also requires the worker to adapt at every stage of the process and learn how to flourish in each new situation. New students, new technologies, new curriculums, new requirements and the ever changing state of the material that we must teach all require teachers (and I would like to argue that have always required good teachers) to be adaptive, to understand their own learning processes and to be able to help others learn to be aware and adaptive individuals.

Much of the focus, when it comes to new and emerging information and skills, lays in technology. The technologies that students must be competent in, in my opinion, are the ones that are going to make them good learners and performers. One could easily do research at the library with piles of books and, sometimes, one still must do just that. With the internet being a fairly open resource for the sharing of information, however, much of the information necessary to students now resides in servers accessible from almost anywhere. Though all of the information on the internet is not completely reliable, more and more there are becoming sites dedicated to reliable information recording. When these reliable resources (reliable websites vs. piles of library books), the internet takes the advantage for one simple reason: expediency. Not only will students have to be able to find, learn and retain knowledge, but they will have to do it concurrently to fixing the problems that they are working on. In the 21st century, the speed at which events occur makes the internet a necessary resource and the skills sets to use the internet appropriate equally necessary. As I write this, I know that I am referring to “the Interwebs” and the skills sets necessary to use them as though they were one cohesive skill set. I know this to be absurd. This, however, is the world that our students face IN SCHOOL, let alone what they will face in their future workplaces.

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