Shaun Crowley has worked as an EFL teacher and a marketing manager for an international ELT publisher. He is the founder of www.linguavote.com, an e-learning platform for learners of English that features social learning and gamification. Follow Shaun on Twitter: @shauncrowley
In ELT we often regard our profession to be independent of teaching subjects like maths and science. That said, many of the approaches and materials we use are influenced by wider trends in education – from constructivist thinking in the 80’s that influenced the publication of Headway, to the recent “flipped learning” approach that’s inspiring some EFL teachers to rethink blended learning.
In American mainstream education there is an increasing emphasis on a concept referred to as “21st Century Skills” – a collection of various competencies that are regarded as being important for success in life, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, digital literacy, creativity, problem solving, environmental awareness and self-expression.
Now let’s be honest – it’s a bit of a buzzword, with a meaning that’s open to interpretation. But the essential concept is pertinent: the ability to combine the subject you’re learning, with the skills and awareness that you need to apply your knowledge of the subject successfully.
In ELT terms, I would interpret 21st Century Skills as:
- Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating materials written in English
- Developing a “voice” on a topic and expressing it in English
- Researching materials and solving problems that are presented in English
- Being creative in English and taking communicative risks in pursuit of fluency
- Collaborating in diverse international teams, communicating in English
- Respecting international cultures and sensitivities
- Presenting yourself professionally in English
- Being able to use software to express yourself in English
- Being able to navigate software and digital content that’s presented in English
- Having the self-discipline to study English independently, and “learning how to learn”.
This probably isn’t an exhaustive list but already it is clear how relevant 21st Century Skills are to ELT, particularly in today’s interconnected world where English is the lingua-franca.
And when we look specifically at the expected outcomes of English classes in schools and universities, it is even more evident that 21st Century Skills have increasing importance.
21st Century skills and the changing ELT landscape
When I first started promoting ELT materials 10 years ago, there was a sizable market of end-users we playfully referred to as “EFNAR” (English for no apparent reason).
These days, English is considered in most places as a foundation subject, a universal requirement for success in later life. Students are aware that English is a necessity for their CVs, particularly if they harbour ambitions to work for an international company.
In many countries, English has become a preparatory subject in universities, partly because of the rise of English medium instruction on undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
These trends have implications on the type of English students must learn, but they also have implications on the interpersonal, cognitive and technical skills that students need to apply to function effectively in English.
Meanwhile, our students’ online worlds are bringing 21st Century skills to the surface even when they are at home… in gaming (collaborating as part of an international team on the Xbox), social networking (sharing thoughts with an international audience), and internet browsing (being able to quickly evaluate the validity of English websites found on Google).
So if we ask how ELT will be influenced by future trends in mainstream education, I would suggest that 21st Century Skills will become a lot more integrated into the language learning process.
What might that look like? In my next posts I will offer four ideas for integrating some of these competencies in class and as part of a blended learning curriculum.