Understanding 21st Century Teaching and Learning

The 21st Century classroom will naturally be very different from classrooms of the past. The focus of classrooms today, needs to be on producing students who are skilled collaborators and communicators; inventive thinkers and problem solvers; self-directed and self-regulated learners; and skilled users of a wide range of fit for purpose technologies. If students are to be well-adjusted productive members of the 21st Century global community, they must move beyond the skills required for success in the 20th Century.

The following teaching and learning scenarios can be used to stimulate dialogue and guide visioning and planning processes with teachers, students, school leaders, school communities and education systems.

Student centered, not teacher centered.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Teachers no longer function as lecturers, but rather as facilitators of learning. Students learn by doing, taking reasonable risks and by collaborating with others. The teacher acts as a coach and a guide, helping students as they work both individually and collaboratively on meaningful, relevant projects. Students learn to select and use a range of technologies to problem solve, inquire and collaborate with others — a small-scale version of the real world they will experience once they leave the classroom.

Students no longer study each subject area in isolation.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Students work on interdisciplinary projects that combine concepts and skills from a number of subject areas and address a range of essential 21st Century skills, cultural values and curriculum standards. This holistic approach to learning and assessment is more meaningful, realistic and representative of the real world in which students live and the workforce they will enter.

Textbooks are no longer the sole source of information.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Students use multiple sources and a range of ubiquitous technologies, to locate process, integrate and share information. A range of applications, software programs and online tools are used to create and share new information and apply what has been learned. Students might keep electronic journals/ blogs, interview experts through online surveys and/or conferencing tools and create wikis to collaborate and share their learning with peers. They may use their own mobile devices (BYOD) as well as those supplied by the school. Instead of being reserved only for special projects, a range of technologies are seamlessly integrated and applied throughout daily teaching, learning and assessment processes.

Flexible student groupings based on individual needs, is the norm.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Whole group instruction is no longer the primary instructional method used. Teachers assess student needs and learning styles and then draw on a variety of instructional methods to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. These will include small group, individual, partner, vertical groupings, whole class, virtual, expert groups, hands on and exploratory modes of learning.

The focus of learning has changed.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

The focus of teaching, learning and assessment has moved from memorising and recalling information to applying, analysing, evaluating, integrating and creating new knowledge from what is already known. Students are learning how to learn – developing the metacognitive skills to reflect on, plan, monitor, evaluate and revise their own learning needs.

Students are expected and supported to apply what they have learned and demonstrate their knowledge, skills and understanding through the learning activities they work on. Students learn how to pose questions, how to conduct appropriate investigations, how to generate answers, and how to use information to build new knowledge. The emphasis in the 21st Century classroom is on creating lifelong learners. With this goal in mind, students move beyond the borders of the classroom to learn through real world experiences.

Just as student learning has changed so have assessment practices.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Tests that measure a student’s ability to memorize and recall facts are no longer the sole means of assessing student learning. Instead, teachers use a range of student projects, presentations, and other criteria/ performance-based assessments to; determine individual learning needs; gauge student progress; and monitor student achievement. (Assessments for, as and of learning)


The 21st Century teacher provides models of lifelong, reflective learning.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

As lifelong, reflective learners themselves, the 21st century teacher keeps abreast of what is happening in their field and are active participants in their own learning. They know they must engage their students in learning and provide effective programs using a range of technologies, instructional methods and assessment practices. They seek out professional learning that helps them to improve both student learning and their own performance.

21st Century student needs parallel the changing role and responsibilities of the 21st Century teacher.

In the 21st Century Classroom…

Teachers are no longer teaching in isolation. They now co-teach, team-teach, collaborate with other department members and engage the expertise of the wider community. Teachers are not the only ones responsible for student learning. Other stakeholders including administrators, para-professionals, school council members, parents, and students themselves all share in the responsibility of education.

21st Century Pedagogies


Reflection on the changed roles, responsibilities and expectations of teachers and learners described in the 21st Century Teaching and Learning scenarios above, highlights the need to rethink and evaluate the pedagogical models currently in use.

Teachers need to reform their existing teaching and assessment practices to incorporate 21st Century pedagogies and encompass teaching and learning that:

Is Personalised — requiring teachers to:

Empowers and Enables Learners — requiring teachers to:

Emphasises the Relational Nature of Learning — requiring teachers to:

Builds Learning Communities – requiring teachers to:

As we move further into the new millennium, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 21st Century classroom needs to be a very different place to classrooms of the 20th Century. The 21st Century classroom needs to focus on: