Transforming education


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This week one of the things I have been doing is preparing for a CLICKS webinar I am doing on Sunday. The outline of the talk is:

  • The impact of digital technologies and wicked problems in education
  • 21 Century competencies and digital literacies
  • Key issues in learning and teaching
  • Future trends
  • The changing roles of teachers and learners
  • Transforming education

The impact of digital technologies and wicked problems in education

Digital technologies offer a rich variety of ways in which learners can interact with multimedia resources, and ways in which they can communicate and collaborate. Key technology trends include: the increasing importance of mobile devices and the opportunity to learn anywhere, anytime, learning across boundaries, the potential of learning analytics, emergent technologies such as augmented reality and Artificial Intelligence. A Horizon summit brought together international experts to consider the future of education. Some of the challenges the group identified included: the need to rethink what it means to teach, the need to re-imagine online learning (and I would argue face-to-face learning), the importance of allowing productive failure, and that innovation should be part of the learning ethos. I would argue that there are three key ‘wicked problems’ facing education today. Firstly that there is a gap between the promise and the reality of what technologies can offer learning. Secondly that teachers and learners lack the necessary digital literacy skills to harness the potential of technologies for both teaching and learning. Thirdly we need to change our teaching strategies and recognize that we are teaching learners to do jobs in the future that don’t even exist today. Therefore we need to shift from knowledge recall to the development of competencies and to help learners develop metacognitive skills and learning to learn.


21st Century competencies and digital literacies

RVS has developed a list of 21st Century competencies based on the principle that education must prepare students fully for their lives as individuals and as members of society - with the capacity to achieve their goals, contribute to their communities, and continue learning throughout their lives. These learner competencies are a set of intellectual, personal, and social skills that all students need to develop in order to engage in deeper learning — learning that encourages students to look at things from different perspectives, to see the relationships between their learning in different subjects, and to make connections to their previous learning and to their own experience.

  • Critical Thinker: Critical thinkers engage in reflective reasoning to build deep understanding that is supported by evidence.
  • Problem Solver: Problem Solvers identify strategies and tools to develop, evaluate, and implement solutions.
  • Innovator: Innovators put elements together to form a new pattern or structure.
  • Communicator: Communicators understand, interpret, and express thoughts, ideas, and emotional connections with others.
  • Collaborator: Collaborators build relationships and work with others to achieve common goals.
  • Globally Aware: Global awareness is the understanding of an interconnected world and a citizen’s role within society.
  • Civically Engaged: Civic engagement reflects a commitment to democratic governance, social participation, and advocacy.
  • Self-Directed: Self-directed individuals take ownership of their learning.
  • Media and Information Literate: Individuals who are information and media literate use technology to explore and build knowledge in an ethical and responsible way.
  • Financially and Economically Literate: Individuals who are financially and economically literate understand and evaluate personal and global economic issues.

Jenkins et al. list a complementary set of what they refer to as the digital literacies needed to be part of today’s participatory culture, these are:

  • Evaluation
  • Transmedia Navigation
  • Multitasking
  • Distributed cognition
  • Networking
  • Visualisation
  • Metaphors
  • Collective intelligence
  • Play
  • Digital identity management

Key issues in teaching and learning

A recent EDUCAUSE report lists the key issues facing teaching and learning. These include:

  • Academic transformation: innovative learning and teaching models
  • Accessibility and universal design
  • Faculty development
  • Privacy and security
  • Digital and information literacies
  • Integrated planning and advising
  • Instructional design
  • Online and blended learning
  • Evaluation of technology-based instructional innovations
  • Open education
  • Learning analytics
  • Adaptive teaching and learning
  • Working with emerging technology
  • Learning space design
  • Next Generation Digital Learning Environment and Learning Management Systems

Future trends

In terms of the future trends facing education that designers of learning opportunities need to be cognizant of include:

  • The changing nature of work and the fact that in the future it is likely that many people will have multiple careers.
  • We are seeing a spectrum of learners, from the demands of the ‘now’ generation who want flexible and adaptive learning opportunities personalized to their individual needs through to those who are learning for leisure reasons rather than for work purposes.
  • We are seeing the emergence of new forms of accreditation, such as digital badges, certificate of participation, micro-credentials, and most recently the potential of blockchain technology to enable learners to document and record their learning across different contexts.
  • We are seeing an unbundling of education, in the future learners may not opt to do three-year degrees, but instead pay for: resources, support, guided learning pathways or accreditation.

21st Century teaching and learning

The above has implications for how teaching and learning is adapting and needs to change.  Will Richardson argues that:


We need teachers who are masters at developing learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals. Teachers who are focused on helping students develop the dispositions and literacies required to succeed regardless of subject or content or curriculum


For teaching there are a number of aspects. Teachers need to focus on the development of higher order skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. They need to help learners develop lifelong learning habits. Technologies are increasingly important and teachers need to develop the digital literacy skills to harness them appropriately in their teaching. Finally, they need to find ways to motivate their learners by providing experiential, authentic and challenging learning experiences.


The office of Ed Tech states that:


[In the future we need] learners who master agency [which] lays the foundation for self-directed lifelong learning, a critical skill for thriving in a rapidly changing world and for our nation to remain globally competitive.


21st Century learning means that leaners now how more choice on how and what to learn. As mentioned before we are preparing them for an uncertain future to do jobs that don’t even exist and the likelihood that they will have multiple careers. As with teachers, they need to know how to use technologies effectively and more importantly how to use them for academic purposes. They need to have ownership of their learning and be able to document and curate demonstration of achievement of learning outcomes.


I have talked in a previous post about the changing role of teachers and learners, and also a critique of criticisms voices over the concept of lifelong learning.  


Churchill (2017) considers the ways in which practice is (or needs to) shifting from a focus on teacher-centred to learner-centred.




Learning of facts and declarative knowledge

Memorising information

Teacher is central

Passing exams

Drilling of right questions and routines

Learning to pass exams

Focus on information presentation to passive learning

Technology as a media channel

Learning from resources and technology


Learning of conceptual knowledge

Working with information

Activity is central to learning

Applying knowledge, theoretical thinking and demonstrating generic skills

Problem-solving, design, project work and inquiries

Learning how to learn

Focus on how learning occurs within an activity

Technology as intellectual partner in learning

Learning with resources and technology


Couros lists the following as indicates of student success:

  • Student voice – learn from others and share their learning
  • Choice – how and what they learn
  • Time for reflection – to reflect on what they have learnt
  • Opportunities for innovation
  • Critical thinkers
  • Problem solvers
  • Self assessment
  • Connected learning

Transforming education

For me to meet the needs of all the above there are two important aspects: new approaches to designing for learning and the use of learning analytics. We need new approaches to design that:

  • Enable pedagogically informed decisions that make appropriate use of technologies
  • Shift from knowledge recall to development of competencies
  • Student centred and activity based
  • Help develop meta-cognitive skills
  • Assessment: process rather than product based

We also need to harness the power of learning analytics; so that teachers can identify and help learners who are struggling and to help learners to develop learning strategies and benchmark against their peers. To conclude we need to implement innovative pedagogies that:

  • Support self-reliance, resilience, agility, adaptability
  • Encourage meta-cognition and reflection
  • Utilize the affordances of digital technologies
  • Enable technology-enhanced learning spaces
  • Develop competencies to deal with an unknown future


Churchill, D. (2017), Digital resources for learning, Springer: Singapore

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