January 21, 2021

What We’ve Learned

Learning In and For the 21st Century

The meaning of the phrase “21st century learning” is often ambiguous, and this ambiguity creates problems in determining why 21st century learning matters and how to implement it. Analyzing the interconnected concepts of Learning In and Learning For the 21st century helps to clarify these issues.

Learning In is about modality – using 21st century tools, media, and cultural patterns in the process of learning. For instance: Using digital manipulatives on an interactive whiteboard; conducting an online discussion about assigned readings; connecting students via two-way videoconferencing with scientists in Antarctica.

Learning For is about targets – aiming at knowledge and skills that are essential for thriving in the 21st century. For instance: Students create and present a proposed skate park design to the city council; students compete in an international robotics contest; student teams write tutorials that others use to acquire information, follow a procedure, or develop a skill.

In and ForOf course, learning In and learning For are not mutually exclusive concepts. Either learning In or For may yield valuable results, depending on the quality of the learning design. The strategies underlying both are often applied concurrently. But thinking through the distinction is important because even the most sophisticated, technology-enhanced modality may do little to help students learn what they need to know or be able to do in this century. Moreover, learning that involves no technology whatsoever may lead to substantial development of 21st century skills.

The suggestions that follow offer ways to dig deeper into the In and For distinction, and to think about how these two types of 21st century learning can be combined to create dynamic learning.

Talk about it. With colleagues, perhaps in your school’s professional learning community, discuss the distinction between In and For, and share examples from your respective classroom practices. Clarify targets. Collaborate on ways to combine the two.

Collaborate. Form a PLC to cultivate dynamic 21st century learning practices in your school or district.

Publish. Share your own video and written examples of instructional design that illustrate an aspect of learning In and For.

Analyze scenarios. Distinguish In and For by considering six K-8 thumbnail scenarios. Think about how to address both In and For in order to make the learning in each scenario more dynamic.

Study examples. Look at the Promising Practices video clips collected by C21L to see classroom examples of In and For, and to think about how to apply these teachers’ work to your own.

Examine the practices in your school or district. Use C21L’s Classroom Observation form and Building Walk-through guide, combined with C21L’s Assessment of Practices & Environments, to reflect on the work you and your colleagues are doing.