A critical look at 21st-century teaching and learning from a teacher and learner perspective

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Technology has the potential to change how we teach and learn. Many researchers and teaching staff are therefore exploring more effective approaches to meet the demands of the 21st century and to recognise learners as involved co-creators of knowledge in the classroom.

In this article, we explore teacher and learner perspectives within a 21st-century language teaching context through an interpretivist case study approach. The perspectives were obtained through semi-structured interviews with eight language educators, a focus group with four teacher participants and a questionnaire presented to 66 learners taught by the language teachers concerned.

The rationale for the inquiry was rooted in our belief that the rapid technological advancement that is so characteristic of the 21st century makes it possible to bring innovation to language education and to respond positively to the needs learners who populate these classes now. The world of the 21st-century learner differs significantly from that of learners of the previous century. As Lemke (2003:5) points out, current learners have a virtual world – with all its promises and pitfalls – at their disposal.

According to Redecker, Leis, Leendertse, Punie, Gijsbers, Kirschner, Stoyanov and Hoogveld (2011:31), future-oriented learning presupposes more active participation by learners with a focus on learning through the application of knowledge; the learning experience; and involvement in and commitment to the learning process. At the same time, the learning process should be more social and collaborative, with each learner constructing his/her knowledge in interaction with others and within the context of practical applications and tasks.

Bolstad, Gilbert, McDowall, Bull, Boyd and Hipkins (2012:31‒2) acknowledge the need for a fresh look at teaching and learning within the context of the 21st-century learning environment. The challenge is in determining what knowledge and skills learners will need for the world of work after completing their schooling. We join the above authors by arguing that South African teachers need to prepare their learners for a world of work in which continuous navigation of rapidly evolving networks and the demands of the 21st century is needed.

We believe that a new type of learner also requires a new approach to the teaching and learning experience. This belief ties in with future-oriented learning, which links with the skills that 21st-century learners need for finding their way in the digital sphere (Taylor and Van der Merwe 2019:300). These arguments relate to Lavonen and Korhonen’s (2017:257) belief that the key challenge for the 21st-century classroom is to find ways to guide learners to develop 21st-century skills. According to Lavonen and Korhonen (2017:257), teachers and school leadership should critically consider the impact of 21st-century competence and include such practices in the practical operational arrangements of the classroom and the school.

In a previous article, “Teacher perspectives on blended learning as a teaching and learning approach to language teaching for the 21st-century learner” that appeared in LitNet Akademies (Pedro and Van der Merwe 2020), we recognised the key role of the teacher concerning innovative teaching and learning practices related to integrating technology in the language class. We extend our findings within this article by drawing attention to 21st-century teaching and learning by investigating teacher and learner perspectives on the integration of technology and the needs of the modern learner.

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2017:7, cited in Taylor and Van der Merwe 2019:5), digital education will “transform the way learners learn, and even what they learn (skills)” and therefore “should encourage schools to become aware of the opportunities such tools offer to improve learning and teaching”. While technology can play a role in the classroom to realise such teaching and learning ideals, research is needed within the local educational domain to determine how these innovative practices are being implemented in schools.

Based on the above arguments, we identify the following problems that are related to the rationale and motivation for this study:

  1. The traditional curricular approaches to language teaching presumably do not address the teaching and learning needs of the 21st-century learner.
  2. The teachers responsible for implementing curricular strategies are not necessarily familiar with the teaching and learning preferences of the 21st-century learner.

The following research questions were developed to explore learner and teacher perspectives on the integration of technology into 21st-century language education, in order to determine whether integrating technology within the national language teaching curriculum can be of benefit to today's learners:

  1. What are language teachers’ perspectives on the teaching and learning needs of the 21st-century learner and how do these views compare with the learners’ perspectives?
  2. What are language teachers’ perspectives on the link between technology integration and the teaching and learning needs of the 21st-century learner?

In the current study, we found that the ultimate meaningful implementation of innovative teaching and learning practices rests largely with the teacher. Consequently, we recommend that teachers be involved in the integration of technology in the language class through a bottom-up approach. We therefore advocate a school culture of empowerment in which teachers are recognised as role players in the policy integration of teaching technologies. Collaborative relationships between internal and external policy reformers, education leaders, practitioners, learners and parent representatives will lead to greater sustainability and meaningful technology integration policies.

From the teacher and learner perspectives, we could conclude that meaningful learner engagement within the language teaching space is one of the biggest drivers for technology integration. Teachers should engage learners in collaborative learning exercises and use technology to create new, previously unimagined tasks and to support collaborative, constructive and authentic learning experiences.

The recognition of teachers, learners and the school community as key players is emphasised as a decisive factor in establishing meaningful teaching and learning change for the 21st century. Our research is based on the urgency of recognising teacher and learner perspectives with regard to the use of technology in the classroom in the local research domain.

Keywords: 21st-century learner; teacher and learner perspectives; technology integration


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

’n Kritiese blik op 21ste-eeuse onderrig en leer deur ’n onderwyser- en leerderbril

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