An interesting article from U.S. News & World Report discusses the concept of “21st- century skills.” The argument by elected officials, educators, and leaders is that there is too much focus on teaching content in the classroom when there are new and necessary skills that students must acquire to be successful in today’s economy including: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, media literacy, and global awareness. Therefore, the focus in the classroom should be on “how to know instead of knowing.” However, Andrew Rotherham, author of the article, points out that while there are some new skills required due to technology, for the most part these skills are not unique to the 21st century and learning content is still very important. “What’s new today is the degree to which economic competitiveness and educational equity mean these skills can no longer be the province of the few. This distinction is not a mere debating point. It has important implications for how schools approach teaching, curriculum, and content.” Rotherman explains that content and critical thinking complement each other and to actively engage in critical thinking, the content must first be understood. He suggests that the movement will be most valuable if it leads to the teaching of content augmented with the advanced skills. Additionally, strategies must be created to make the school system more equitable so that all students are given a chance to learn these skills. Rotherman notes that there are many challenges that must be overcome and changing the school system will not be easy, “If they want to genuinely transform teaching and learning, proponents of 21st-century skills must be as deliberate about how their idea is approached and implemented as they want schools to be about teaching these skills.”
As we think about 21st century skills and learning, that most likely means an evolution in course materials to 21st century formats. Given directions in accreditation and learning assessment, publishers are responding by developing tools that confirm learning outcomes are achieved. Those new learning tools will most likely be in digital format. 21st century course materials are not a century away. Retailers must think about their role in delivering these new course materials and learning formats if they are to remain viable in the future.