The Landscape has Changed, the Skills are the Same
As someone that is never a fan of buzzwords in education, a term that often gets an eye-roll from me is “21st Century Skills.” Books have been written, talks delivered, products sold, and all are based around a set of competencies that experts say students will need in the 21st century. Give the most often cited skills some thought though, and you will see skills that are not necessarily new or innovative. The ability to solve problems, to work with others, to communicate well, and resilience are all cited as major skills of the 21st century. These skills are coupled with statements about increased competition in the marketplace, and the projection that the jobs of the future do not yet exist.
If Doc Brown and Marty McFly were here to fly you “Back to the Future,” and we arrived in 1955, the skills and habits of successful people would be identical to those which are now cited as 21st century skills. Leaders and innovators of the mid-20th century had to solve problems, communicate and work with others. A quick search of “Sputnik” will lead to multiple articles about the increased competition students would face in the future. In addition, I don’t believe that citizens living in 1955 could imagine many of the careers that exist today.
The skills are not new. The landscape, tools, pace and communication medium are.
– The need for memorized facts has decreased with the rise of search engines, apps, and ubiquitous access to the internet. This has led to a rise of a new literacy (digital) where someone needs to determine what is fact and what is fiction when reading online.
– With a cell phone/tablet/computer, a person has the power to answer any factual question and make any information public, at any time. It has never been easier to be a published author.
– EVERYTHING is faster now. Information and people are always available. Society has become a race to who can share the fastest.
– There are far more options to communicate, making the need to connect with others more important. Good communication remains succinct, honest, and direct, regardless of the tool that is used.
Our strategies need to change. We need to embrace the new landscape and tools, but need to remember that the skills that learners will need to succeed in the future are no different today than they were 58 years ago. Our role is to work with our students so they can gain the skills they need to be successful using the tools they have at their fingertips.