Learning in the 21st Century

Most exam halls ban mobile phones. They do not want students to copy off the Internet. Why? They assume that:

  • There is only one correct answer to every question.
  • Students should learn that answer as exactly as taught.
  • Using any tool (even a calculator) as a reference will harm student’s understanding.

The current way students learn is an invention of Industrial Era. Large factories demanded huge number of trained workers. We then created schools that taught obedience and uniformity, creating perfect factory workers.

This is not so great for the 21st century. The Industrial Revolution is long gone and we are already living in its wake. We now need students who can work together and be creative to solve real problems.

In the Internet Era, we should make these different assumptions:

  • There are many important problems that need a solution. Students should understand and explore these problems while attempting solutions.
  • Students should combine different fields to come up with a better answer to problems.
  • The entire Internet is available to provide information and tools.

Being a great student is not longer about learning the most. Or being the best at completing a task. It’s how to find and apply relevant information to solve hard problems.

This is how you learn in the Internet Era:

  1. Pick an interesting and important problem to work on.
  2. Learn everything about the problem — both deep (into the problem) and broad (about similar problems).
  3. Develop a solution and test it on real people who face that problem.
  4. Pick up new skills and knowledge: Learn from your experiences.
  5. Repeat 1–4.

The most important thing is how to learn. In the Internet Era, the world is no longer static. Skills that are in demand today will be outdated in a few years. This requires lifelong learning, and is a challenge but also an opportunity. Students who can learn early how to pick up new skills become successful.

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