What is Learning for the 21st Century?

As educators, we all have a desire to impart the knowledge, skills and attributes that help children reach their full potential.  Yet, as dynamic and unpredictable problems arise, both in communities and at the world at large, what does learning look like in the 21st century?  More importantly, what is our responsibility as educators?

Along with the foundational skills of literacy and math, educators must now consider how best to impart a set of competencies that not only include the ability to perform tasks and solve problems but that present opportunities where students apply their own learning outcomes in alternate learning contexts; making use of a variety of interpersonal, intrapersonal and cognitive skill sets.  

A.  Intrapersonal Attributes:  behaviour, emotions and ethical values.  Involves mindsets, well-being, and character development.

B.  Interpersonal Attributes: communication/collaboration, social skills, teamwork, leadership

C.  Cognitive Attributes:  theory, concepts and tacit knowledge(thinking and reasoning). This also includes one’s ability to learn and reflect upon the process of learning.


When educators make deliberate changes in curriculum design and pedagogical practice that are mindful of the interpersonal, interpersonal and cognitive attributes, we will begin to see the development and cross-disciplinary application of transferable skills in our students.  Doing so will better prepare our students to solve complex problems associated with living in a complex, competitive, globally connected and technologically intense world.  

Again, back to the big question…what does this look like and how do we do it? 

Over the past several years, I, along with a team of teachers have been exploring how best to advance sophisticated competencies-focused lessons, foster these competencies within our students and strive to create a space where student learning becomes a transformative and empowering reality.  Using the Ontario Ministry of Education document: “21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion” (2016), our team began working on solutions that are simple to use, maximize student learning, foster the competencies and require little in the way of teacher technical expertise(a common stumbling point for many teachers).  Our work has led to some incredible outcomes, using the LEGO learning system as our primary medium.  Early on, our team moved away from the simple notion of teaching LEGO robotics in favour of using LEGO and LEGO robotics to remediate:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship
  5. Metacognition: Learning to Learn
  6. Global Citizenship

…in all subject areas and at all grade levels.  

We believe that our classroom approaches, perspectives on the learner and reorientation of the role of teacher to that of facilitator have allowed for more meaningful and long-lasting integration of STEM learning and computational literacy into all areas of the curriculum and student life.  

After being awarded a grant through the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program, our team would now like to showcase the variety of approaches that we used to explicitly remediate the competencies, by way of case studies.  We hope that our work will help you to create a culture of innovation, risk-taking and continuous learning among your students as well as capacity-building activities that lead to the transformations in pedagogical practices among your educators.   It is also hoped that this can be a gathering point for idea exchange and review; so check out our case studies and please don’t hesitate to comment and reach out.  

Yours in Education,

Blair Fitzsimons