Saturday, January 23, 2010

Learning in the 21st Century: Flinstones or Jetsons?

If anyone had told me 20 years ago, that I would be sitting on a plane one day with my laptop computer and conversing with my friends on a video call or socializing on a networking site called Facebook while 30, 000 feet in the air, I would have scoffed and told them to keep watching “the Jetsons”. I never would have believed that I would actually find myself here, in seat 10A on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Seattle participating in online discussions with my classmates from across Canada on the University of Alberta’s eclass system. It is mind boggling to see the technological changes that have take place in my life over the last few years. The advent of digital cameras, cell phones, and laptops with multifunctional capacities to video conference and surf the web are just to name a few. My students think I’m from the Stone Age when I tell them that I grew up with a black and white TV (with no remote) and I get only blank stares when I mention the words “rotary dial phone”. These are truly digital natives I think to myself. It is indisputable that technology has emerged, become omnipresent and is creating a new environment, not only for ourselves, but for our children and students as well.

In the new Kaiser Foundation report, daily media use among teenagers is up dramatically from only 5 years ago. It has been calculated that they now spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using media – more if you take into consideration that most of that time is spent multi-tasking and using more than one device at a time (Richardson). As Will Richardson said in his Blog a few days ago “Anyway you slice [it], kids are immersed in media, and that immersion is having a huge effect on the way they see the world and the way they learn”.

Sadly, the learning that I experienced as a student myself in classroom settings was not always relevant, timely, or applicable to real-life. Prior to starting my masters and taking courses online, it was always text book-based and I was often bored; as I’m sure many students still are today. The times in my life that I felt I was learning- deeply and completely, have involved real-life problem solving situations or being put in a position where my life or health was at stake. The scenarios differ widely from performing a killer whale necropsy to discover why the animal died to taking safety courses in sailing, scuba diving, avalanche awareness or rock-climbing. The common thread however is that these lessons involved hands-on, personal inquiry questions that were engaging and applicable to real life situations and the learning that occurred was much more profound as a result. So how do we create these “just-in-time”, “just-for-me” learning situations that Joyce Valenza refers to? And what are the skills, knowledge and expertise that our students will need to be successful in the 21st century?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been a leading advocacy organization for infusing 21st century skills into education and is comprised of educators, community groups and business leaders. They promote the following skills, knowledge and expertise as being necessary for students to succeed in work and life (Johnson):

1.Core subjects and 21st century themes such as: language arts, mathematics,
science, global awareness and financial literacy
2.Learning and innovation skills such as: creativity and critical thinking and problem solving
3.Information, media and technology skills
4.Life and career skills such as initiative and self-direction.

Based on this, I can envision a school that would involve other learners that had similar interests and learning objectives from other schools and countries. It would certainly involve the sharing of background knowledge from multicultural perspectives and the sharing and synthesis of new ideas and the celebration of new discoveries. It would be presented in a collaborative fashion for anyone and everyone who was interested to appreciate or critique. The resources and technological tools that the learners would use would be those that would aid in their communication, collaboration and networking. It would involve changing our current way of thinking and teaching to create a community system instead of a classroom system.

“It’s hard to think of a century in which it wasn’t important to think critically as well as be analytical, creative and collaborative. Imagine a prehistoric group on a hunt for food that did not employ this kind of approach. You’d have to imagine it, because society would not last” (Manthey).

As educators, it is paramount that we find ways to infuse these skills into all aspects of the curriculum and combine them with the available and engaging Web 2.0 tools. By “integrating 21st century skills deliberately and systematically into the teaching of core subjects appears to empower educators to make learning relevant and to help students be successful” (Trilling, as cited in Weis). In doing so, we have the opportunity to make the giant leap from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. As Will Richardson says “We may not feel comfortable in a world filled with technology. But our kids don’t have a choice. And if we’re going to fulfill our roles as teachers in our kids lives, neither do we.”

What kind of educator would you rather be? Fred and Wilma Flintstone or George and Jane Jetson?


Johnson, Paige (September 2009). The 21st Century Skills Movement. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from:

Manthey, George. (November/December 2009). The Knowledge vs. Skills Debate: A False Dichotomy? Leadership. Retrieved from:;col1

Richardson, Will. (January 21, 2009). No Choice. Weblogg-ed. Retrieved from:

Valenza, Joyce. (2010). You Know You’re a 21st Century Librarian If…Wiki. Retrieved from:

Weis, Charles. (November/December 2009). Innovative Paths to Improve Learning. Leadership. Retrieved from:

Image Credits.
Jane Jetson Making a Video Call Image. Retrieved from:

Flintstones and Jetsons Image. Retrieved from:

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