Welcome To The Future!

Image curtosy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/27122946272.


Many of the discussions about how well educational establishments fit into the modern world, and how best they cater for the needs of learners and their futures – I feel tend to focus unnecessarily on peripheral factors. They tend to consist of speculation about what the classroom should physically look like; about whether students learn best outside or inside; about how many lessons there should be in the day; and about how long the school day should ideally be.

In short…the discussions that often take place (certainly in the mainstream printed media) talk about logistics. I would state that while these arguments add to interesting column inches, they are not an educators’ primary concern, when considering the future of the education system as we know it. Indeed, there is a multitude of different approaches that we can take to effective education, as a site such as The 14 most innovative schools in the world demonstrates.

…we first need to free ourselves from the mental box that limits our thinking about the real meaning and purpose of education – The Classroom Is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New By Prakash Nair.

We commonly agree that the ‘traditional’ systems of education are not a best fit for either our students today, or for the kids of the future. The old fashioned, instruction based, rote learning systems were designed for a bygone age. This style of educational instruction just does not cut it if we want to teach our pupils most effectively, and in the worst cases, it “squashes motivation,” as the excellent next video suggests.

Effective Education

This video highlights the tenets of effective education, as opposed to the aforementioned outdated models. Mentioned in the video is the following: enhancing motivation, playing with concepts, making learning relevant, collaboration, self-directed study, reading comprehension, searching skills and an ability to believe (in both the world and in yourself).

I agree with these notions and find the video utterly inspiring. I would also suggest that at the heart of the video is that the success of our educational institutions in the present, and when preparing our students for the future, relies on the teaching of specific learning skills. The article 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead by Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham explains that, “the skills students need in the 21st century are not new,” but that, “What’s actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills.”

Therefore, though it is impossible to see what the future will look like exactly (especially when it comes to aspects such as the technology that will be available or what school buildings will tend to look like), it is clear that ’21st century’ learning skills will be essential and will lie as a central concern for the future of the best schools and universities.

In this blog post, I will use examples to highlight the learning skills (commonly described as ’21st century’ learning skills) which I believe are essential for the future of our education system, and for our kids in the future. So, what are these skills and why are they important?


The Skills: Not Just For The 21st Century, But Absolutely Essential

The research and writing based on ’21st Century’ Skills is exceptional. The article What are 21st century skills? highlights many, particularly the ‘Four C’s’ in the picture above. I particularly liked the quote, “students also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information,” which explains the importance of these skills and why they are needed for the future of education.

13 Essential 21st Century Skills for Todays Students draws together the findings of six major educational frameworks to synthesise what the skills are, and The Critical 21st Century Skills Every Student Needs and Why is another great blog post on this topic.

Finally, Microsoft provide free online courses that are relevant to this subject, here, and there is a debate as to the important skills on this site.

But here, I would like to use a modern example to elucidate the importance of these skills for the future of our schools.


Those in the Baby Boom generation entered the workforce with a goal of stability; subsequent generations are more concerned with finding happiness and fulfillment in their work lives – Wikipedia, 21st Century Skills.

Though it has spelling errors (sorry, I am a teacher), the following video highlights what a huge year 2017 was for YouTube and the issues that have recently cropped up (this one is another issue for another blog post at a different time)…

It is blatantly clear that though it may be a ‘transitional period’ for the site, working as a YouTuber or YouTube content creator is now a genuine form of employment. Indeed, it is a highly sought after one at that, and with the rise of streaming services over traditional television, it is truly a boon for creatives and fame-seekers alike.

YouTube probably will not be the medium for our students when they enter employment, as technology progresses. I am also aware that education is not just about getting a route towards the most popular jobs. But, it is a useful example to use when analyzing modern learning skills, and to see if they are applicable here.

  • YouTubers need a good working knowledge of technology.
    Cameras, software, sound equipment, lighting…a myriad of technology is used in the making of content, so a good working knowledge is essential. Prior experience of a wide range of technology in education would certainly help our students for the future.
  • YouTubers need to think analytically.
    Initially, YouTubers should be able to define their audience and the central messages that they want to portray in their videos. Successful artists can analyse trends and understand what is popular, or alternatively be able to spot gaps in the market.
    These are all critical thinking skills.
  • YouTubers need to be able to self reflect.
    As the creators progress, they need to be able to refine their approach to their content and improve upon it. The editing process is essential to the creation of an effective video. Again, critical thinking and an experienced grasp of self reflection is crucial here.
  • YouTubers need to be creative.
    Well, to make a video requires creativity! A history of creative endeavor in education would certainly help here, as would a practiced eye on the creative process in general. For example, the creative planning process.
  • Ideally, YouTubers need to have a good grasp of social awareness.
    In some of the best examples, YouTube content can result in real and lasting positive social change. Below are two examples of that…

The former US President, Barack Obama, via the ‘It Gets Better’ YouTube group…

  • YouTubers need to collaborate.
    As with the majority of the online world, YouTube is thought of as a community. Video makers collaborate over content regularly and give each other advice. Collaboration is a central skill in this modern environment.
  • YouTubers need to empathise with their audience and manage feedback.
    As in all creative endeavors, the artist needs to empathise with the sensibilities of the audience. YouTubers also get active feedback on their creations which they need to effectively communicate with. YouTubers also commonly use other forms of Social Media to engage with their audience. Critical thinking comes into play here, as does resilience, when the videos are unpopular or negative feedback is received.
  • YouTubers need to be adaptable and manage a range of tasks.
    To name just some of the tasks of a YouTuber…script writing, audio editing, logo designing, writing, animating, music creating, data analysing, entertaining, creating…it is a varied and challenging job, which our students would need to be flexible and adaptable with to be successful.


If being a YouTuber is one of the most modern forms of employment and it relies on the use of a vast range of the ’21st learning skills’; then it is a good indication for us that the future of our education systems relies on the teaching of such skills. To set our students up for futures full of happiness, we must strive to imbue them with these skills.

Future Educators

The educational communities that we work within must all pull in the same direction to promote these skills. Our classroom practice must also do the same. Ultimately, we have to place these skills at the heart of everything that we do and cherry pick the very best practice, technology and pedagogical approaches to help all learners equally.

I could sit and type about personalised instruction, the children as the key creators, project based learning and the use of smart phones – all of these are still important – but the most crucial factor in the future of our education institutions is the humans within it and the skills that they take on into their futures. If we are open to change, foster student relationships and are forward thinking in our approach; then in a way it does not matter about the specifics at play. What really matters is the mindsets of both teacher and student, with the learning skills of the students in our care at the core of all that we do.

With this, we push onwards!

Additional Reference:

Teaching Strategies: What a 21st Century Educator Looks Like.

15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

With one warning, the teaching of skills should of course not and must not be at the expense of inspiring and interesting content, as is suggested in 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead by Andrew J. Rotherham and Daniel Willingham.


How best to include these skills in our curricula?

What qualities do the teachers of the future need?

This entry was posted in Classroom, COETAIL, Collaboration, Connectivism, Course 4, Critical Thinking, Online 9 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Welcome To The Future!

  1. Megan Looney says:


    The video by Good, The Future of Learning, I realized is now 6 years old. It brings up possibilities that were, and continue to be, exciting possibilities for education and our students. I’m finding however, 3 schools ago in 2012, I was having conversations about making changes to our educational pedagogy and practices because students need to be taught and practiced in 21st century skills because those skills they will need the most in their future. Their careers could be as YouTubers (which to them will seem like ancient history when they turn 25) or use the latest technology collaborative practices that benefit both not for profit organizations and businesses. We don’t know but what we do know is that changes need to be made. My frustration stems from the fact that of the three schools I’ve worked at since 2012, one has had conversations and made changes based on these beliefs. I wonder what holds back other organizations. Is it fear? Is it lack of knowledge? Is it comfort with the familiar?

    I found your comparision between 21st century skills and being successful on YouTube quite a great comparison. I think for upper elementary and beyond grade level students, they could even glean onto value of these skills more because so many of them have the dream of becoming a YouTube star. This article shares the good, the bad and the ugly of being a YouTube star. While many parents see it as a negative career choice, it is a valid one. Rather than rolling our eyes adults need to help break down the skills and help provide support for our interested students. What surprised me in the article was one parent wouldn’t allow their child to dress like a YouTuber on career day. That’s just crazy! Rather than have the same questions I mentioned earlier, as adults we need to overcome our fear, learn more from our own research but also from learning alongside our students.

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Megan,

      Thank you once again for the comment.

      Absolutely, I too have been part of and witnessed really varying approaches in terms of changing pedagogy and driving towards the instilling of 21st Century skills. It is certainly perplexing that this part of education is not now commonly accepted as a central facet of how we work with our students and the experiences that we give him.

      There must be so many reasons for this. I wonder how of a role perception plays in this. Writing and Maths are still seen as concrete skills that have to be taught in schools, in many quarters, and are also seen as elements of education that are manageable for those that deliver it. I think that really we should drop the ’21st century’ from the title, and just call them ‘skills’. In other words, skills that should be inherent to how we run our school communities and a central part of how we push towards the future (and present). We should drive towards normalising these skills, as much as we have done with Writing and Maths skills, and towards believing that these skills should directly be developed (not just left to develop naturally – we would not do with with the ability to construct a sentence or add numbers).

      This is just one part of this puzzle, which we have to try and solve as educators, but perhaps an important one.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *