21st Century Learning Vs. Learning with Technology

The teacher stands at the front of the room, students focused on the SmartBoard screen beside her. Using a special digital pen she highlights areas of a digitally projected satellite image to show various coastal landforms – bays, peninsulas, isthmuses – and has the students draw the same landforms on the map worksheets on their desks. Is this 21st century learning?

Not necessarily.

21st Century Learning is characterized by some specific things that can include learning with technology, but they don’t have to. A 21st Century classroom at Johnston Heights will include cross curricular study, time frames that are different than the usual 70 minute block, and a staffing structure such that teachers are working collaboratively. There is the flexibility for a team teachers to decide who is teaching what and when, how many students are working together, and the time periods set for particular learning tasks or assignments (which can be as short as a few minutes, or as long as a whole morning of even a whole day). The curriculum is integrated, so that teachers are helping students learn to gather knowledge from several different disciplines to solve a problem with real life implications. Usually 21st century learning does include learning with technology, just because the gadgets are ubiquitous and make the knowledge we’re working with easily accessible.

Learning with technology is not automatically innovative. Simply using a SmartBoard rather than a digital projector rather than an overhead projector rather than a blackboard takes the possibility of technology back to the 19th Century. But when thoughtfully used to extend the curriculum, to individualize learning for a student, or to bring experiences to the classroom that are impossible otherwise, technology can be a gateway to powerful learning.

One of our JH teachers, Taylor Kim, has been doing some experimenting with an iPad as a teaching tool, as well as observing the innovative work of her peers. She writes:

In the Home Economics wing, I have seen a game on an iPad used to soothe an autistic teen, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of his cooking class and then the same device used to videotape him making cookies cooperatively and successfully with his peers. Best of all, he would be able to take that footage home to his parents and share and celebrate his progress in a way that had not been possible before.

In the Mathematics wing, I have also seen a Smartboard used in class to draw students out of their seats to move shapes and whole equations across the width of the room with their two arms, and all to the wild cheers and words of encouragement of their engaged peers.

(Ms. Kim will be authoring a future post at this blog on “The Magic of Technology”.)

21st Century learning and learning with technology are both powerful opportunities to innovate with good teaching practices. Learning with technology can transform the individual learning experience. Thoughtful 21st Century Learning innovations are transforming the system.



I am an educational leader, a photographer, a thinker, and a parent. We live in a world of abundance on the West Coast of Canada. I learn together with wonderful people in my home, community, work, and church. My goal for my students is that they leave school with confidence based on demonstrated excellence in at least one domain of learning, and with the life, employment and thinking skills to open the many doors of their future.

Posted in Education

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