Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Redefining the 21st Century Learner

Earlier today, I was asked to demonstrate my understanding of the term '21st Century Learner'. I was pleasantly surprised by the question and found myself mentally reviewing a few of the conversations I'd had with colleagues in recent days.

The term may have been adopted to spur educators to consider the relevance of learning experiences being offered to students; to embrace emerging tools in the classroom; and to inspire an evolution in our practice. Now that it's 2010, and we're well into the new millennium, my observations are that the term has failed to engage a majority of educators in critical reflection of their own teaching practice.

By the time I was finished critiquing the term, I was faced with a follow-up question: What term would you use in place of 21st Century Learner?

In considering a more apt term to represent today's school-aged learners, I put forth the term 'refugees'. I went on to explain that I see students every day, who have to unplug, disconnect, and go solo in a world whose terrain is foreign to the way they regularly interact. Rather than interact via mobile devices tethered by invisible signals, most of today's students have to wait for teacher permission to communicate, and even then, can only network with students in the same room. In many ways, it's like being forced to speak a unique language while being contained in a foreign land. What they wouldn't give, to have the freedom to return to their 'home country'!

How would you have responded?

Have you grown tired of the term 21st Century Learner?
Do terms like Digital Native and Digital Immigrant now strike you as failed attempts to categorize youth and their not-quite-so-techy parents and teachers?
Do you have an apt metaphor for today's learners in today's schools?
Do you see today's learners as 'Time Travelers', 'LOST passengers', 'bats without radar', or something different?

The audio version of this story is available as today's episode on The Clever Sheep Podcast.

Image Credit: Alex Mickla
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