The world is changing in remarkable ways, and the pace of this change is only accelerating. Thanks to unprecedented advances in technology, society continues to evolve at an exponential rate. The rapidity of change has led to dramatic shifts in all aspects of life, from how people communicate and collaborate to how they solve problems, create projects, and consume content (Sheninger, 2019).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, and it is drastically different from the previous three, with the hallmark of this period being the momentous evolution of digital technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is defined as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Rapid advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, and biotechnology characterize this revolution.
This high-speed evolution of technology has drastically changed the way we communicate. Social media platforms have revolutionized how people interact, allowing them to connect with each other no matter where they are in the world. People can now instantly share their thoughts and experiences with people worldwide, creating a truly global community. This phenomenon has enabled people to collaborate on a global scale, working together to solve complex problems and create far-reaching projects that would have been impossible in the past.
This evolution of technology has also shifted the way people consume content. Gone are the days when people had to wait for the news to be broadcast or printed in the newspaper; now, the news is delivered instantly to our fingertips. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have enabled people to access vast content libraries anytime and anywhere. People can now customize their viewing experiences, watching content at their own pace and on their own schedule.
At the same time, technology has also changed how people solve problems. Only recently, problem-solving was done manually and often needed more speed and accuracy to solve complex issues. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, people now have access to powerful tools that can give them the answers they need in a fraction of the time. With the help of AI-powered tools, people can now solve problems more efficiently and accurately than ever before.
These advances in technology have also revolutionized the way we create projects. Projects that used to take weeks or months to complete can now be accomplished in a matter of days. With the help of cloud-based tools, people can now collaborate on projects from anywhere globally, giving them access to a much larger talent pool than ever before. Cloud-based tools have inordinately increased the speed and efficiency of project creation, allowing people to create projects of unprecedented complexity in record time.
So why is the 21st Century Learning Mantra played out?
First, we are already in the 21st century, so aiming for a place where our schools currently reside is not a lofty goal. By default, good, bad, or indifferent, the learning schools provide students is 21st century learning. In order to prepare the students of today for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, education must learn to mirror the rapid pace of change. The required shift can be achieved by introducing students to the latest tools and technologies. The tools should be presented and used as a product-driven experience, not mere consumption.
Schools must implement more hands-on learning opportunities that allow students to use the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom to solve real-world problems. Students need more than to merely to consume knowledge; they must be able to apply it. Rather than offering lectures and readings, schools must offer students the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities that allow them to apply the concepts they have learned. For example, students in physics classes might be asked to build robots or construct a bridge to test the physics principles. In mathematics, students can be challenged to design algorithms to solve problems. Students should be producers, such as creating a website or mobile application in computer science. Such projects allow students to create something tangible rather than simply understand a concept’s theory.
In addition to hands-on learning opportunities, schools must also emphasize the importance of collaboration among students. With the rise of the gig economy and the global nature of business, employees must be able to work effectively and efficiently in teams. Schools need to allow students to work together on projects, giving them practice in resolving conflicts, understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and creating creative solutions to problems. A focus on fostering collaboration between students, teaching them how to work together and leverage each other’s strengths in order to create is paramount to future success.
An essential part of navigating this technology-driven world is the ability of teachers to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of students. In order to do this, teachers should be provided with effective professional learning that prepares them to shift and improve instruction for the students. The Fourth Industrial Revolution presents a unique set of challenges to teachers. Not only must they be able to incorporate new technology into their instruction, but they must also be able to use the technology to engage their students and help them to develop the skills they need to be successful in a technology-driven world. This quandary means that teachers must be prepared to teach in an environment where technology is both an asset and a challenge.
Despite the importance of professional learning, there are many challenges to preparing teachers for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One of the biggest challenges is finding the time and resources to provide teachers with compelling professional learning opportunities. Many teachers are already overwhelmed by the demands of their jobs and may need more time or energy to dedicate to professional learning.
A significant challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is constantly changing. With new technologies and applications springing up every day, teachers must be able to keep up with the changes in order to be able to use the technology in their classrooms efficiently. This can be difficult for teachers already struggling to keep up with the pace of education. Professional learning focused on the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) and intentional digital transformational technologies is how we begin the eat the proverbial fourth industrial revolution elephant one bite at a time.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here, changing how we live and work remarkably and unprecedentedly. In order to ensure that students can take full advantage of the opportunities available, education must learn to mirror the rapid pace of change while successfully supporting teacher growth and development. Educators are tired of the old “…learning in a 21st century environment” statements. It is time to shift the focus to digital leadership training for teachers and move beyond conceptual understanding for students.
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