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21st Century Learning Theories

21st Century Learning Theories

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, you will review main theories that underlie learning in the 21st century.

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Welcome. I'm Trisha Fyfe. And into this lesson, I am going to be covering the topic of 21st century learning theories. As we learn about this topic, we will work towards several learning objectives.

Together we answer the following questions in this video lesson. First, what are the theories that are related to 21st century teaching and learning? And last, why is it important for us as teachers to understand and use these theories?

Into today's lesson I will teach you about five different learning theories that can be applied to 21st century teaching and learning. Some of these theories you may be familiar with, and some you may be learning about for the first time. One thing they all have in common is that they are essential theories to understanding 21st century learners and what their needs are.

So let's start with Constructivism. Constructivist learning environments are filled with students that have opportunities to create their own meanings. And teachers become the facilitators, coaches, and promoters of this student centered learning.

Teachers provide content, but students are given a voice and choices in their learning. And inquiry is essential to this theory. All of the components promote strong student engagement and relevant, authentic, meaningful learning tasks.

In a classroom filled with technology, collaboration occurs digitally and in person. And digital tools can be used to present and publish material as well. Blogs, Wikis, YouTube videos, these are all examples of just a few of those tools.

Moving on to Problem Based Learning, you can see that this theory is very similar to Constructivism. Unlike constructivist based teaching however, Problem Based Learning is a theory in which students investigate and respond to a specific and complex problem or challenge. Learning is rigorous and carefully planned and assessed over an extended period of time. This promotes high quality, authentic products and presentations.

Like Constructivism, Problem Based Learning revolves around inquiry, and the teacher plays the role of facilitator. Students collaborate and are actively engaged as they problem solve and are forced to think in flexible ways. They also use critical thinking skills in this classroom. In a classroom filled with technology, collaboration can occur digitally and in person. Digital tools can be used to support problem solving.

In Cognitive Flexibility Theory the focuses is on learning in complex domains by using flexible thinking. And also the ability to transfer skills and knowledge beyond initial learning and into a different contexts. This is a big part of Cognitive Flexibility Theory.

When planning for instruction using Cognitive Flexibility Theory, it's important to use a wide variety of methods to present material to allow students to construct their own meanings. The theory draws on Constructivism, and case studies are often used to do this. These usually support context specific formats. These two instructional strategies help students adapt understanding to each different case, therefore constructing their own meanings. In classrooms filled with technology teachers have flexibility to find context specific learning, such as case studies.

In Social Learning Theory, Bandura promotes the concept that learning takes place through observations, imitations, and modeling. Students observe each other, take note of successes and failures, and then model and imitate successful behaviors that they've seen. The learner is also influenced by cognition, environment, and behaviors in their environment.

Network Learning Theory is based on the idea that learning takes place in connection with other people, and information, and resources. Developing and maintaining these connections and relationships are a large part of this theory. And collaboration and communication are key in supporting learning.

In both Social Theory and Network Learning Theory, online collaborative learning environments and forms are great tools for incorporating technology. Forms like Google Docs or even blogs. So let's talk about what we learned today.

We looked at the following questions. What are theories related to 21st century teaching and learning? We also talked about why these theories are important for us to understand as teachers. We discussed several theories. Constructivism, where students are constructing their own meanings, as well as other theories routed to Constructivism, like Problem Based Learning where students are given complex problems or questions and use inquiry based student led learning to create authentic products.

Another theory related to Constructivism is Cognitive Flexibility Theory. Where the primary focus is to generalize learning from one context to another. This theory is also built on the idea that students must construct their own knowledge.

We looked at Social Learning Theory, where learning takes place by means of observing, imitating, and modeling. And Network Learning Theory where learning is dependent on relationships and connections with others, as well as information and materials. Now that you have a better understanding of these 21st century learning theories, let's reflect. Which of the theories that we learned about have you experienced in your own education? Which of the theories do you connect with the most and why?

Thanks for joining me today in discussing the lesson, 21st Century Learning Theories. I hope you found value in this video lesson and the ideas that we discussed together, and are able to apply these ideas and resources to your own teaching. As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Notes on “21st Century Learning Theories”


(00:00- 00:47) Introduction/Objectives

(00:48- 01:32) Constructivism

(01:33- 02:25) Problem-Based Learning   

(02:26- 03:19) Cognitive Flexibility Theory

(03:20- 03:40) Social Learning Theory

(03:41- 04:09) Networked Learning Theory

(04:10- 05:08) Recap

(05:09- 05:53) Reflection  

Additional Resources

Learnist: Learning Theories 101 for the 21st Century Teacher

This site captures articles about and resources for 21st century learning theories. The intention of the Learnist board is to offer a clear overview of learning theories and how they apply to 21st century pedagogy.

Emerging Theories and the Role of Educational Technology

This site examines how learning theories connect to 21st century teaching and learning in a technology rich environment. In addition to the article on the main page by Shannon Doak, be certain to explore the links for other theories on the left-hand side of the page.

A Rich Seam: How Pedgagogies Find Deeper Learning

This white paper explores the intersection of pedagogical strategies, technologies, and systems to improve instruction. Of particular relevance are Chapter Three: The New Pedagogies - Deep Learning Tasks and Chapter Four:
The New Pedagogies - Digital Tools and Resources.