21st Century Skills (In A Nutshell)

Since it’s not evident in the title, I should point out that this post continues my series of “one-page” overviews that explain important properties of a constructivist learning environment (as part of the writing process for the literature review of my dissertation). Like the other overviews, this one will soon be fleshed out with detailed citations and references to constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars. In this case, though, the overview is already clearly structured according to the enGauge 21st Century Skills framework.

If you’ve got any insight or feedback to offer on the subject, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Though it may not be considered a fundamental property of a constructivist learning environment, any environment designed for 21st century students can also be designed to help them develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the 21st century.

The North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) and the Metiri Group have defined a broad spectrum of 21st century skills, which they’ve organized into four categories: Digital Age Literacies, Inventive Thinking, Effective Communication, and High Productivity. Many of these concepts might be better called “timeless skills for success” and have been advocated by constructivists for at least a century now.
For instance, many of the Digital Age Literacies identified by NCREL and the Metiri Group were important long before the digital age, including basic, scientific, and economic literacy. Though the increasing rate of technological change continues to transform Technical literacy, visual literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy, and global awareness, these literacies too have been important for generations. Now, though, video games scholars highlight ways in which games and simulations can be powerful new tools for helping students develop many of these literacies.

Video games are even more powerful tools for developing what NCREL and the Metiri group have called Inventive Thinking. Games and simulations allow students to develop adaptability and practice managing complexity. Learning to master a game can be an opportunity to develop the concepts of systems thinking. Good games also promote self-direction, reward curiosity, and require creativity – not to mention higher-order thinking and sound reasoning. More importantly, games require and reward risk taking, an important (and difficult to teach) skill for success in the 21st century.

Helping students to become effective communicators has long been a goal of constructivist educators. Here too video games can help students develop and practice their skills. Teaming and collaboration are key features in a constructivist learning environment that promotes socially negotiated meaning making and are also key features in many good games, including massively multiplayer online role-playing games. As the games for change movement demonstrates, video games can also be an effective way for students to develop a sense of personal, social, and civic responsibility – or to learn ethics.

As with any educators, high productivity has always been a goal of constructivist educators. In fact, many would argue that their methods would be more effective at producing highly productive students and citizens. Ideally, a constructivist learning environment, including a video game or simulation, will help students develop skills of prioritizing, planning, and managing for results. Just as constructivists hope that students will learn in an authentic context, they hope that students will learn to effectively use real-world tools and be able to produce relevant, high-quality products. Perhaps more importantly, constructivists hope that students will learn to do so in innovative ways, and that their experience in their learning environment will transfer into innovative problem solving in the real world.