A Guide for Facilitating 21st Century Learning

Students do not become 21st century learners on their own. They need learning opportunities that challenge them to utilize 21st century fluencies and integrate the five dimensions of 21st century learning. These dimensions include:
  • Collaboration 
  • Knowledge-building
  • The use of ICT for learning
  • Self-regulation 
  • Real-world problem-solving and innovation
The following is a set of guidelines developed by the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research program to help educators understand how they can create learning opportunities that will facilitate the development of 21st century skills. In addition to a brief description of each of the five dimensions of 21st century learning, the guidelines include a scale/rubric which educators can use to determine the degree to which each dimension is present during a specific learning opportunity.

Similar to Bloom's Taxonomy, educators should seek to create learning opportunities that challenge their students to demonstrate the highest level on each scale. While educators may strive towards the highest levels of each dimension, it is important to note that these scales/rubrics should be applied to a sequence of lessons or unit plan and not individual lessons. Even though an individual lesson could focus on a single dimension,  it is not possible to achieve the highest level on all of the scales/rubric within a single classroom lesson.
For the full description of the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research: Learning Activity Rubrics and Sample Student Work Rubrics please visit: http://www.itlresearch.com/home

The information listed below is taken directly from 
Innovative Teaching and Learning Research: Learning Activity Rubrics


To challenge students to the highest level of collaboration, students need to have shared responsibility for their work, and participate in learning activities that requirs students to make substantive decisions together. These features help students learn the important collaboration skills of negotiation, agreement on what must be done, distribution of tasks, listening to the ideas of others, and integration of ideas into a coherent whole.

1 = Students are NOT required to work together in pairs or groups.
2 = Students DO work together: BUT they DO NOT have shared responsibility.
3 = Students DO have shared responsibility; BUT they ARE NOT required to make substantive decisions together.
4 = Students DO have shared responsibility AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work.

Knowledge Building

Knowledge building happens when students do more than reproduce what 
they have learned: they go beyond knowledge reproduction to generate ideas 
and understandings that are new to them. Activities that require knowledge building ask students to interpret, analyse, synthesize, or evaluate information or ideas.

1 = The learning activity DOES NOT REQUIRE students to build knowledge. 
Students can complete the activity by reproducing information or by 
using familiar procedures.
2 = The learning activity DOES REQUIRE students to build knowledge by 
interpreting, analysing, synthesizing, or evaluating information or 
ideas; BUT the activity’s main requirement IS NOT knowledge building.
3 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS knowledge building; BUT the learning activity DOES NOT have learning goals in more than one subject.
4 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS knowledge building; AND the knowledge building IS interdisciplinary. The activity DOES have learning goals in more than one subject.

Use of ICT for Learning

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is becoming increasingly 
common in the classroom, but ICT is often used to support practice on basic skills rather than to build knowledge. This dimension examines how students use ICT—whether or not the use of ICT helps students build knowledge, and whether or not students could build the same knowledge without using ICT. 

1 = Students do not have the opportunity to use ICT for this learning activity.
2 = Students use ICT to learn or practice basic skills or reproduce information; BUT they are not building knowledge.
3 = Students use ICT to support knowledge building; BUT they could build the same knowledge without using ICT.
4 = Students use ICT to support knowledge building; AND the ICT is required for building this knowledge.


In 21st century workplaces, people are expected to work with minimal supervision, which requires them to plan their own work and monitor its quality. Learning activities that give students the opportunity to acquire self-regulation skills last for a week or more and require students to monitor their progress. Teachers can foster self-regulation skills by giving students working in groups responsibility for deciding who will do what and on what schedule.

1 = The learning activity can be completed in less than a week.
2 = The learning activity lasts for one week or more; BUT students ARE NOT given the assessment criteria before they submit their work and; DO NOT have the opportunity to plan their own work.
3 = The learning activity lasts for one week or more AND students ARE given the assessment criteria before they submit their work OR DO have the opportunity to plan their own work.
4 = The learning activity lasts for one week or more AND students ARE given the assessment criteria before they 
submit their work AND DO have the opportunity to plan their own work.

Real Problem Solving and Innovation

In traditional schooling, students’ academic activities are often separate from what they see and do in the world outside school. True problem solving requires students to work on solving real problems, and challenges them to complete tasks for which they do NOT already know a response or solution. For the result of this problem solving to be considered innovative it must require students to implement their ideas, designs or solutions for audiences outside the classroom.

1 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS NOT problem-solving. 
Students use a previously learned answer or procedure for most of 
the work.
2 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS problem-solving; BUT the problem IS NOT a real-world problem.
3 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS problem-solving AND the problem IS a real-world problem; BUT students DO NOT innovate. They are NOT required to implement their ideas in the real world.
4 = The learning activity’s main requirement IS problem-solving AND the problem IS a real-world problem AND students DO innovate. They ARE required to implement their ideas in the real world.

Here are some learning activities to review and determine where they would rank on the five dimensions:

Doing Business in Birmingham - Learning Activity Resources

Kinect Olympics - Learning Activity Resources

Creating a Global Consciousness about Poverty and Hunger - Learning Activity Resources

Consider ways to revise these learning activities so that students would be challenged to demonstrate the highest level of each dimension.

Join the Partners in Learning Network to interact with 21st century teachers from around the globe and review the searchable database of thousands of 21st century learning activities and resources.

The Need for an Innovative Approach to Education In Niagara

Why the Niagara region needs an innovation approach to education:

  • Results for the Canadian Education Association, What did you do in school today? survey indicate that:

  • Although many students are engaged at school, overall levels of social and academic engagement are quite low.

  • Levels of intellectual engagement – which tap into students’ sense of interest, feelings about the relevance of school work, and motivation to do well in class – are significantly lower than levels of social and academic engagement.

  • Levels of student engagement decline steadily throughout the middle and secondary school grades. 

  • Adolescent learners experience high levels of intellectual engagement when they encounter school work that is challenging, has practical and intellectual value, and engages them in authentic tasks similar to those that mathematicians, artists, or other professionals would pursue (Canadian Education Association, 2012 )
    • Speaking during the Ontario Town Hall: Establishing our Economic Roadmap: Securing our Future, Walter Sendzik, CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce had a chance to present findings of the identified the key pillars Niagara needs to improve upon in order to return to a prosperous state: 
      • The first pillar, is the creation of a 21st century workforce with a focus on education - from elementary students right up through post-secondary.
      • Pushing Niagara forward as a supporter of innovation incubation and entrepreneurship is the third pillar Niagara This Week
    • How can schools teach students to be more innovative? - Wall St. Journal
      • Most of our high schools and colleges are not preparing students to become innovators. To succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure
      • Learning in most conventional education settings is a passive experience: The students listen. But at the most innovative schools, classes are "hands-on," and students are creators, not mere consumers. They acquire skills and knowledge while solving a problem, creating a product or generating a new understanding.
      • Mandating that schools teach innovation as if it were just another course or funding more charter schools won't solve the problem. The solution requires a new way of evaluating student performance and investing in education. Students should have digital portfolios that demonstrate progressive mastery of the skills needed to innovate. Teachers need professional development to learn how to create hands-on, project-based, interdisciplinary courses. Larger school districts and states should establish new charter-like laboratory schools of choice that pioneer these new approaches.
    • The Rise of Educator-Entrepreneurs: Bringing Classroom Experience to Ed-Tech - MindShift

      “Teachers are usually the last people to be consulted on many of these education technology companies.”
      Most teachers are happy doing their job — helping kids understand and make sense of the world around them. But there’s a growing number of educators who are wading into entrepreneurship, frustrated at the lack of tools they need, and wanting to extend their sphere of influence. As technology becomes more widely used and accepted in the classroom, teachers are taking their ideas about how to improve learning environments, sharing them online, and creating web-based tools to benefit teachers and students.
      At the same time, the fact that the multi-billion dollar ed-tech space is exploding has not gone unnoticed by investors. Programs like Imagine K12 run crash courses in ed-tech entrepreneurship, connecting fledgling companies to Silicon Valley venture capital firms (and staking out a six percent equity).
      But, as most educators know, while tech entrepreneurs can sometimes hit gold, not every newly minted site or software is useful to teachers. That’s what sets educator entrepreneurs apart — they have relevant classroom experience that can’t be gained any other way than by doing the hard work of teaching.
    • Redefining Teacher Education Programs for the 21st Century

    • Let's Radically Improve Teacher Training (and Stop Fighting About It) - Chronicle of Higher Education
    • Building a Better Teacher - NY Times

    • “The world no longer cares about what you know; the world only cares about what you can do with what you know,” explains Tony Wagner of Harvard, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World.” (NY Times)

    • The Possibilities

      High Tech High - Four Integrations That Make up High Tech High

     Four Integrations That Make up High Tech High
    1. Integrating students across social class. 
    2. Integrating head and hand (making and doing things)
    3. Integrating school and community
    4. Integration of secondary and post-secondary education
    New Tech Network - Video 
    New Tech Network is a nonprofit organization that transforms schools into innovative learning environments. Our project-based teaching approach engages students with dynamic, rigorous curriculum. Through extensive professional development and hands-on coaching , our teachers evolve from keepers of knowledge to facilitators of rich, relevant learning. New Tech Network is re-imagining education and the student accomplishments speak volumes.The New Tech design provides an instructional approach centered on project-based learning, a culture that empowers students and teachers, and integrated technology in the classroom. Our hands-on, multi-year approach gives schools structure and support to ensure long-term success.

    Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning
    Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning actively promotes excellence in education by providing new learning opportunities for students and future-focused Professional Development for teachers. Established as the research and innovation unit, SCIL runs a range of programs and research projects that seek to transform educational thinking and practice both at NBCS and in the wider educational community.