9 Characteristics Of 21st Century Learning

21st-Century-OverviewThe label of “21st Century learning” is vague, and is an idea that we here at TeachThought like to take a swing at as often as possible, including:

–weighing the magic of technology with its incredible cost and complexity

–underscoring the potential for well thought-out instructional design

–considering the considerable potential of social media platforms against its apparent divergence from academic learning

Some educators seek out the ideal of a 21st century learning environment constantly, while others prefer that we lose the phrase altogether, insisting that learning hasn’t changed, and good learning looks the same whether it’s the 12th or 21st century.

At TeachThought, we tend towards the tech-infused model, but do spend time exploring the limits and challenges of technology, the impact of rapid technology change, and carefully considering important questions before diving in head-first.

The following take on 21st century learning developed by TeachThought is notable here because of the absence of technology. There is very little about iPads, social media, 1:10 laptops, or other tech-implementation. In that way, it is closer to the “classic” approach to “good learning” than it is the full-on digital fare we often explore.

The size of the circles on the map are intended to convey priority.

9 Characteristics Of 21st Century Learning

1. Learner-centeredĀ 

2. Media-driven (this doesn’t have to mean digital media)

3. Personalized

4. Transfer-by-Design

5. Visibly Relevant

6. Data-Rich

7. Adaptable

8. Interdependent

9. DiverseĀ 

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!


  • Love the suggestions. Many of these bleed over into the “learning habits” concepts we’re working on as well–kind of a thin line (at times) between standards, habits, curriculum, models and characteristics. What revisions would you recommend specifically–simply adding a characteristic, or broadening one to include ideas such as play or self-assessment/metacognition?

  • Thanks for posting this creative visualisation; I love the concept.

    Some kind of feedback loop to establish notions of process underway would be my constructive suggestion (similar to self-assessment/ reflection from Terry), but to illustrate continual nature of adjustments in learning.

    Valerie Hannon at the recent ACER conference spoke about an ecosystem of learning; keynote linked here http://sboswellhyde.visibli.com/share/1BX20s. I like “ecosystem”!

  • Thoughtful graphic. Perhaps implied by the Interdependent and/or Visibly Relevant circles, but it seems important to articulate a connection to the common good or a larger purpose as well as empathy. And hurray for adding play/innovate.

  • Great list for schools who want to stretch teaching/learning, but lack technology for each student. However, the point of 21st Century Learning is the technology. It’s, “how can we do what we’ve done before, but use technology to improve it.” The three biggest circles are: learner centered, media driven, and personalized. Each of these three are enhanced with technology. For example, for learner centered, the student will want to explain what they want to learn, why, and how they are accomplishing this goal. So, creating a blog, tweeting, a wiki all makes this more effective. Media…. that’s obvious. Personalized, heavily linked to learner centered, so all that applies, but also, the assessment piece. Using online tools to assess can help pinpoint areas of interest and weakness for further learning.

    So, love the list. It’s something I can use for all teachers, but the inherent definition of 21st learning is enhancing learning via technology.

  • Hi Terry very interesting and well designed Blog obviously a lot of time and effort spent here.
    My blog is aimed at a different public but I think we’re on similar paths. Keep up the good work

  • The ultimate of new age learning is governed through preparing your cloud presence via scribd IDs’ or blogs. This needs a share with kids to penetrate towards recognition and honourful listening.

  • Some good perspective here, however I believe that the term “media driven” is misleading. Learning needs to be “self-driven” and possibly “media supported”. This places the emphasis on the learner driving the learning ( a healthy perspective) not the teacher, not media, not the boss! What do you think?

  • @AtcTeachers (Shawn Stone) yes, I agree, sorry for the late response, its taken this long for me to get access to the information, but motivation drives the student to search and often it will take many forms, the drive for them to be connected.

  • less grading, more communication – last semester I deliberately chose to reduce time spent assigning and adding up arbitrary ‘marks’ – and spent more time discussing with each student what they were doing well, and what they could improve.

    As a result I felt they appreciated the individualized input more, and gained a wider understanding and focus on what they needed to do.

    In contrast, when I handed back a marked test from another teacher, they simply glanced at the number on the front, then busied themselves asking each other what mark they’d got, so they could feel superior or whatever. When I asked if there were any questions about the paper – nuh – that’s all – way in the past – forgot that stuff already – we only study for a test in the 24 hours before, and forget straight after – what was that – don’t remember …

    So my focus for now is – speak to students individually – praise their achievements, and suggest areas to improve – a great time saving on late nights and weekends adding up and cross-tabulating ridiculous arbitrary numbers.

  • Great post. I think even if we only focus on a few of these characteristics we will be doing our students a favour. CrankyFranky I also work on the philosophy that communication and discussions are of greater benefit to the students than the final test/assessment grade at the end of the task.

  • Thanks for this great summary! Could elaborate on two of the terms used (as I am not coming to this from an education background.)

    “Data-Rich” — Does this refer to the content students consume during the learning process? The content 21st Century instructors seek to connect students with (rather than lecture to them about)? Maps, census data, and primary source material that students should seek out and interact directly with during a history lesson? Or does “data” refer to assessment scores, student achievement scores, etc.?

    “Media Driven”…or “supported” (as a previous poster has suggested) — Does “media” refer to the content and/or tools a student interacts with during the learning process? And does “driven” refer to the focus on interacting with that media…versus receiving knowledge from a lecturer?

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