5 Things 21st Century Learners Need

Students of today are different. They live in a world of high-speed feedback and technology-enhanced everything. As a result, their worldview is drastically different from that of their parents. Student needs (and wants) haven’t changed fundamentally over the years, but how they are addressed has certainly changed. This is neither good, nor bad. It is simply different.

This post is based on my personal experiences and observations of over 20 years of classroom teaching. In my opinion, here five things students today want (and need):

Timely feedback. This means a few days at the most. Today’s students are accustomed to playing video games where feedback is instantaneous. If your students are waiting more than a few days for feedback, they’re likely to get frustrated and become disengaged with the learning.

Enjoyable learning. Learning opportunities are everywhere today. There are loads of free resources on the Internet that allow teachers to engage students in activities that are enjoyable. There’s no need for dull learning in today’s world.

Challenge. Today’s students are not lazy by any means. They thrive on challenge. Again, look at the video game industry. There’s always a new challenge to overcome. The first step to this is learning a new skill.

Voluntary repetition. This may seem counter intuitive to the idea of learning being enjoyable. When teachers think of repetition, their minds can drift back to boring, learning-by-rote drills of years gone by. But that’s neither enjoyable, nor challenging. Students want and need activities that challenge them in new ways. But if at first they do not succeed, they want the chance to try again without ridicule or punishment. Every time they repeat something, they understand it in a new way until finally they “get” it. The difference today is that the repetition gets linked to the challenge. Students want to choose to repeat the activity, not have it forced on them.

Boundaries. Students need a safety net and good, firm boundaries. These do not have to be enforced in an authoritarian or oppressive way. Instead, boundaries today are presented simply as “what is”. When students master a task, they move on to the next one. There’s no discussion. No begging. No fighting. It is simply what is. Add the element of challenge and enjoyment and you have students who ache to achieve because they know, intuitively, that the boundaries exist to help them succeed, not to hold them back.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


One Response to 5 Things 21st Century Learners Need

  1. Liz Asbury-Brown says:

    Students of today think they need immediate feedback because of who they are. they have no patience. Students today live in the right now era…they want everything right now. Patience? What is that? Their lack of patience has to do with their idea that they are entitled….

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