Drawing on research in the learning sciences, the development of 21st Century Skills is correlated with the broad family of social-constructivist approaches that challenge educators to move the degree of directedness from a direct instruction model towards more inquiry-based approaches, such as problem-based, project-based, and authentic learning opportunities (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2008; ; Darling-Hammond, 2015; Guerriero, 2017; Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2010; Hoadley, 2011; Laurillard, 2002; Hung & Khine, 2006; Mishra, 2012).
Active Approaches to Learning
The correlation between such active approaches to learning and the development of 21st Century skills is precisely that these approaches require agency and self-regulation of the learner which is simply not fostered if the learner remains a passive recipient of content knowledge. It is when the learner engages in inquiry into an authentic activity and is tasked with sharing his acquired knowledge in a polished product or performance, that information, communication, technology and media literacies are fostered.
The Collaborative Construction of Knowledge
Moreover, research in the learning sciences advocates for the collaborative construction of knowledge through cooperative learning opportunities and the development of a learning community. This is in part to acknowledge the social nature of learning (Bandura, 1989; Dewey, 1938 ; Salomon, 1997; Vygotsky,1980) but also to foster the social and cross-cultural skills among learners. The collaborative construction of knowledge further acknowledges that creative solutions and complex problem-solving, two central 21st century skills, benefit from multiple perspectives and diversity of opinions. Collaboration, “the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams and to make the necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal is a key competency for the future” (P21, 2010).
A learning design that aims to foster 21st Century skills will thus provide active and authentic learning experiences that hold the nature of learning to heart: learner-centeredness, the social nature of learning, responsiveness to motivation and emotions, sensitivity to individual differences, and horizontal connectedness (Hanna, David & Francisco, 2010). It achieves this by fostering learning activities and assessments guided by the principles of authentic e-learning (Herrington, Oliver, & Reeves, 2010): real-world relevance, ill-defined problems, sustained investigations, multiple roles and perspectives, the collaborative construction of knowledge, interdisciplinary perspectives, integrated assessments, and lots of opportunities for reflection and articulation. If the development of 21st Century Skills is indeed tied to these principles, then these have to be taken into consideration in the design of virtual learning environments in which an increasing number of learners spend their time.
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