Transforming the Classroom for Collaborative Learning in the 21st Century

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Today's hyper-connected students live in a world of instant interpersonal communications and virtually infinite access to information and educational resources. But this networked world, and the powerful learning tools it offers, has yet to penetrate the typical classroom. In many ways educational institutions are spinning their curricular wheels, falling behind the evolving needs of students, communities and future employers. In general, schools ate not taking full advantage of the 21st century learning technologies, and they are failing to reach out to the public- and private-sector organizations that can provide them with support and fresh approaches.

What we need now is an educational transformation that aligns the "how" and "what" of learning with the learners themselves and the world of work that awaits them after they leave school. That means:

* Instruction must be synchronized more closely with the ways students live and interact outside the classroom.

* Curricula must address the soft skills required in today's global, information-driven workforce.

* Technology and pedagogy must be better integrated.

* Educational institutions must look for partners that can add to their pedagogical strengths and help shore up their weaknesses.

Networking in all its forms is key to bringing about this necessary transformation in learning.

Closer Rapport with Today's Students

Today's students live in a highly connected, interactive environment that they typically leave behind when they enter the classroom. Sitting quietly and passively while taking lecture notes does not come naturally to a student population accustomed to a virtual world of instant messaging, pervasive Internet access and online social networking. If these connected students are to excel in education, their learning environment should mirror the ways in which they engage the world.

The connected-student phenomenon is not restricted to the developed world. According to a report by the environmental research group World Resources Institute published in 2007, as family income grows in developing countries, spending on information and communications technology (ICT) increases faster than spending on anything else--including health and housing. Wireless Intelligence estimates that 80 percent of the world's population lives within range of a cellular network, and the International Telecommunications Union has determined that most of the world's cellular users in fact live in developing countries.

Greater Emphasis on Relevant Skills

We need to broaden the scope and reach for our curricula to adequately prepare our youth for work in the global economy. On the one hand, students complain that their studies do not give them the pragmatic, job-specific skills they need to succeed outside the classroom. On the other hand, vocational and professional schools are often criticized for focusing too much on procedures and too little on the concepts and strategic thinking that will enable students to grow in their professions and adapt to future organizational and technical change.

Furthermore, much of today's career and technical education (CTE) training is still aimed at equipping students for work in a traditional industrial/manufacturing economy, rather than the new information/knowledge-worker economy. And soft skills such as collaboration, customer satisfaction, and cross-functional leadership that are important attributes of many 21st century jobs often do not find a place in the fact-based pedagogical approaches that still dominate many classrooms.

Traditional education is divided into segments such as K-12, college, university, adult education and trade school. Such segmentation has increasingly less relevance for modern students who are not welt served by age-bracketed classes, instructional tracks, or subject majors. …