Every new batch of learners is a little bit different from the one before. However, given the pace at which new media and technology are changing, 21st century students really stand out in terms of what they need to succeed in school and beyond.
So what do STEM learners really need these days? What’s new and different about them that makes it necessary to create such unique and innovative learning experiences?
- They’re tech-savvy (understatement). The term “digital native” is almost cliché when applied to the next generation of STEM learners. For them, there is no STEM without edtech, social media, and digital resources. True, not all learning (or even the majority of it) has to be done online or on a device, but they do expect it to be an integral part of their learning experience. What’s more, they expect it to be good.
- They’re collaborative. This is a generation of socially-connected thinkers. They know more about each other and the world around them than ever before, and they expect to do at least some of their learning together.
- They value application over theory (even though theory is still necessary). They need what they learn to be relevant to everyday lives, and to their future career paths, even if they don’t end up in a STEM-related job.
- They’re socially-minded. They want their STEM learning experiences to have a greater purpose, and they wonder how they can use it to help the planet, and other people.
- They’re cross-curricular. They want to know how STEM-based knowledge and skills can help them in other subject areas.
- They’re hands-on, exploratory, and self-directed. For them, STEM learning has to include the opportunity to think their way through things themselves, and to make mistakes.
- They’re lifelong learners. They need STEM learning to be an ongoing process, outside of the classroom, and even after graduation.
- They’re diverse and inclusive. They recognize and celebrate many kinds of diversity, and their STEM experiences need to appeal to a wide variety of learners.
It is a long list, but it’s also both the opportunity and a responsibility to fine tune our approach to teaching and learning. In checking as many of the boxes as possible, we can help to ensure that the next generation of STEM learners make the most of their time in school.