10 Ways Technology Supports 21st Century Learners in Being Self Directed by Lisa Nielsen

Life in the 21st century provides a whole-new world of opportunities for self-directed, passion-driven, personalized learning. Educators who are ready to move on from teaching the way they were taught, and administrators who will let them, can begin supporting students using tools and strategies available to the 21st century learner.

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog and Transforming Education for the 21st Century learning network. International Edublogger, International EduTwitter, and Google Certified Teacher, Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.

  1. Personal Learning Networks
    Perhaps the core of passion driven, self-directed learning is the development of personal learning networks which can be developed through blogs, social networks like Facebook, Ning, or Group.ly, Twitter, and discussion boards. Read 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network, The PLN Matures. The Progression of the 21st Century Personal Learning Network and 5 Ways to Build Your 1.0 and 2.0 Personal Learning Network to learn how to get started.
  2. Tweet to Connect with Experts
    If you have an interest, Twitter is the place to connect with others who share that interest. Simply do a search on Twitter for the topic and you’ll be connected to a many others interested in the same topic. Follow them. Reply to them. Use the search term in your Tweets and others interested in that topic will see your Tweet. Students can even have their own newspapers created instantly about their topic of interest using a service called Paper.li.
  3. Skype an Expert
    You can make your classroom a global communication center for free with Skype by connecting with anyone around the world about topics of interests. These experts may be people you have conversations with or perhaps they are people you learn from. Author, blogevangelist, teacher, thought leader and father, Will Richarson uses Skype to supplement his children’s learning. Paul Bogush, an 8th grade social studies teacher not only supports his students in doing this, they take it up a notch with a program they produce called Lunchtime Leaders. Students interview leaders from around the world on their opinions about what they should do to be prepared for the future. Paul and his students do most of their interviews using Skype and they turn the interviews into Podcast. You can listen to their podcasts at http://lunchtimeleaders.podbean.com. where students choose to interview experts in topics they are interested in and then turn their interview into a podcast.
  4. Free Online Educational Resources
    Learn about whatever you want with free online education resources (OER). The purpose of this coordinated movement is to move toward a common goal of providing quality courses for learning for free. “At the heart of the movement toward Open Educational Resources is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general, and the Worldwide Web in particular, provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and re-use knowledge.” – The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Many of these resources do not require a teacher for students to learn
  5. Online Learning
    When given the choice, students often say they LOVE learning online and not just because it lets them sleep in. They find that they are exposed to many more possible courses in alignment with areas of interest and moving at their own pace without distractions of classmates enables them to learn more effectively. Many public schools, universities, and colleges are starting to jump on board and companies like Zulama.com are popping up which offer High-interest online courses students can’t find at their high school. Access to unique subjects they’re passionate about makes Zulama a place teenagers want to go to learn. With Zulama, students connect, teachers simplify, parents stay involved, and schools get ahead.
  6. Authentic Publishing In the 21st century, irrelevant hand-it-in teaching should be a thing of the past. If a student’s work has no authentic audience beyond the teacher, it shouldn’t be assigned. A student who is self-motivated to do something, counts, btw. A teacher directing him/her to do it does not. Most 21st century kids love to share with real audiences and are doing it outside school already. Inside school, work should not sit lifeless on a computer, or even just the school website. Support students in finding real audiences for their work in their Global Community. If you’re not sure how find out by reading, “21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!”
  7. Use YouTube and iTunes to Learn Anything It’s rather outrageous that many schools still block one of the most powerful tools for learning available for students today. YouTube. While iTunes is a powerful option for learners on the go, YouTube adds the visual element, making learning even more powerful and FREE! With YouTube Education and iTunes University, more and more colleges, universities, and their professors are sharing content for free. While some schools are paying for pre-packaged online learning options, they’re really all already out there for free. Empower teachers and/or students to design their own learning and learn about whatever they want with these free resources. Not only are these good resources to go to learn from others, they’re also a smart place to ask for help like this student did who needed help with his bowdrill set.
  8. Passion (or talent) Profiles
    When we start collecting profiles of students passions, talents, interests, abilities and learning styles, suddenly students and teachers have an awareness that they may never have considered previously. A passion (or talent) profile is not only value for teachers and student self-awareness, it is also a helpful tool for students to connect with others who might share a passion. These students could connect on a topic of interest, collaborate, and share ideas. These profiles can be purchased using a company like Renzulli learning or they can be made for free with Google Forms and Spreadsheets. Either way, it’s much easier to differentiate instruction when teachers and students can quickly and easily see where they stand and sort by interest, learning style, talents, or abilities.
  9. Develop Authentic Learning Portfolios
    When done write ePortfolios can be a powerful tool that not only helps remind students of all their accomplishments, but it also enables them to share these with the world. In the 21st century, creating an ePortfolio is free and easy. Student simply select a container (blog, wiki, website, Google site), decide how they’d like to organize it, and then post their work. I strongly advise against using any paid for portfolio site. It is important that students have ownership of their own work and that it can travel with them wherever they are. When it comes to ePortfolios, Helen Barrett is the go-to person. To learn more, visit her blog http://blog.helenbarrett.org where she shares fantastic ideas.
  10. Empower Students to Assess and Learn Themselves
    The days of teacher as gatekeeper of the answer key or teacher edition are gone! Educators need to stop hiding and start sharing information with students including enabling them to learn how to assess themselves. If a student wants to know their reading level, show them how with resources like those you can find here. If a student creates a video, honor the built in authentic assessment like number of views and comments and the child’s ability to find audience. Show him/her how to share with appropriate audiences and get feedback for improvement. If a student wants to know how well they might do on a test let them find a test prep review site where they can take practice tests and see how they’ve done. Empower students to develop their own learning plans and assessments so they can learn and assess independently. After all, they are the ones who own the learning.

In our globally connected world, it is no longer acceptable for teachers to teach the way they were taught nor is it okay for administrators to allow it. It is also no longer acceptable for administrators to take the easy way out and require connected kids to learn in a disconnected environment where they are banned from accessing sites or bringing to school the tools and technologies they love and need to succeed in the world. In the 21st century, if we truly care about student success we will lift the bans, unblock the filters and connect our students to the world so they can learn effectively.

Cross posted at The Innovative Educator.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.