Five Flaws With 21st-Century Skills Programs +Infographic

I understand the struggles of innovating in the classroom. I have been a district leader in charge of implementing programs like STEM and project-based learning, only to find that they often were designed and implemented with a 20th-century mindset. Here are five flaws of 21st-century skills programs that I wish I had known about before:

  • Hard To Integrate: Many of the programs were add-ons on top of what you were already doing, not easily integrable into the content you must cover. As if teachers have time to add more stuff!
  • Excessive Overhead: So many tedious logs and forms to fill out with little value. As well as bloated processes that hindered progress and seemed more suited to learning bureaucracy skills rather than innovating skills.
  • Insufficient Skill Practice: Skills develop through deliberate and frequent practice. Simply learning about a skill, such as “collaboration,” in a unit of study does not lead to developing those skills. Practicing planning only once at the beginning of a project is insufficient for learning how to plan. For skill development, it is essential to practice it regularly, not just once at the beginning of a project. Only through ongoing practice can students effectively develop and improve their skills.
  • Obsolete Methods: The tools and processes are based on old, now-obsolete project management methodologies. Innovative companies have abandoned them long ago in favor of rapid and iterative methods, like Agile.
  • Big Upfront Planning: Too much time is spent on planning and research, leaving little time to produce tangible deliverables. This approach, rooted in the 20th-century mindset of extensive upfront research and planning to execute a perfect plan, is no longer effective in the modern world of constant change and uncertainty. It is especially ineffective in education, where numerous variables exist when working with students.

We are walking into the future backward and under the delusion that we are nurturing future-ready students. It caused these problems for our teachers and students:

  • It placed too much work on teachers, who were already overwhelmed with other responsibilities.
  • It fostered outdated mindsets, as skills and mindsets are interconnected.
  • It led to a shallow understanding of skills rather than a deep and thorough mastery.
  • The approaches were not easily transferable or applicable to other curriculum areas.
  • It created the false impression that we were effectively preparing students for the future. 
  • It demotivated both teachers and students.
  • Precious money and time invested with very little positive impact. Perhaps even a negative impact.

I’ll go more into what other educators and I did to fix the problem in the next article. Stay tuned!

P.S. We developed an approach called an Agile Classroom with other educators over the years to solve these problems. We are launching our first public Certified Agile Classrooms Teacher course on February 4th – 5th, 2023.

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