Learning Spaces for Digital-Age Skills

Technology & Learning, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Learning Spaces for Digital-Age Skills


One of the main drawbacks to a passive learning environment is that it provides few opportunities for students to develop the skills that are so important in the digital-age workplace. When teachers control the topics and pace of learning, the ways students access knowledge, and the ways they demonstrate what they've learned, students can't develop their creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. And when the only audience for student work is the teacher, students can't develop the flexible, effective communication skills they need in a digital age.

COLLABORATION SKILLS

All digital-age skills are, of course, important. But it is collaboration that is often identified as among the most critical skills for the future workplace. It is also fundamental to active learning. Collaboration in the classroom can meet two important instructional goals. First, the development of collaboration skills is itself an important learning objective. And second, research conclusively shows that well-designed collaborative activities contribute to improved learning. Incorporating collaboration into a traditional classroom environment poses many challenges. Students need spaces where they can meet with each other. They need access to the tools that support the kinds of thinking that helps them learn, often at the same time that other students are working alone or with the teacher. Digital-age learning environments also need to support collaboration among adults, mentors, and peers outside of the classroom, which are often facilitated by technology. Thinking carefully about how a learning space can support the kind of collaboration that builds confident learners is an important step in designing effective learning environments.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

In the industrial learning environment of the 20th century, communication skills such as writing and speaking were relegated to the language arts class; but in digital-age learning environments, communication is a critical component of every subject area.

Communication in digital-age learning environments takes on far more forms than it does in traditional classrooms. Gone are the days when an occasional essay or speech in an English class meets learning objectives. Today, throughout the curriculum, students are expected to explain their thinking, persuade others of their opinions, and engage readers and listeners. And students must do so not only with words but also with graphic and multimedia elements.

CREATIVITY SKILLS

Creativity is another critical skill in the digital age. We all recognize creativity when we see it--in the gadgets we use every day, in the art that makes us appreciate and think about the world around us, and in the ideas that challenge us and help us grow. P21 identifies creativity as one of the most prized skills for the future, and yet the traditional classroom environment often presents more of a challenge than a support for creative thinking.

Creativity flourishes in an environment where students can take risks and fail, where they have options about what they learn, how they learn, and how to demonstrate what they have learned. …

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