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Last Updated: September 9, 2020

The teacher of the 21st Century is a classroom collaborator who is entrusted with the enviable task of facilitating learner acquisition of RELEVANT knowledge and skillsets. He is supposed to stay up to date with the advancements in technology and emerging global cultures, in order to implement relevant teaching/learning models.

The learning environment in the 21st century is also evolving now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are finding their way into the classroom and the entire digital ecosystem.

According to a March 2019 UNESCO working paper,

AI has started producing new teaching and learning solutions that are now undergoing testing in different contexts. AI requires advanced infrastructures and an ecosystem of thriving innovators

It is incumbent upon the teacher, therefore, to delve deep into the world of AI and all tech-related sciences in order to prepare Generation Alpha and Z learners for evolving possibilities in the 21st century.

The skills to teach in the 21st century

In a UNESCODOC file, Tony Wagner (2010) and his team at Harvard University identified a set of 7 competencies and skills that learners need for life, work, and citizenship, in order to survive in the 21st Century:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration and leadership
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurism
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Access to and analysis of information
  • Curiosity and imagination

So, what makes the 21st-century teacher?

creative work and teacher
The life challenges arising from urbanization and globalization are a cue for creatives to come up with smart ideas relevant in the 21st Century (Image by bridgesward from Pixabay)

There are no comprehensive guidelines as to the ultimate educator in the 21st Century, and neither are there clear-cut teaching methodologies that go with implementing them. This probably explains why the antiquated ‘data dumping’ methodology is still popular in many classrooms around the world.

But a lot is changing – and pretty fast for sure. Following the birth of Generation Z at the turn of the Century and Generation Alpha kids, inside the new Century, the modern teacher is compelled to equip himself with the right skills-sets to sound the least relevant today.

Fortunately, there is no need to panic. After all, humanity has always managed to evolve and somehow find ways to devise new knowledge-base and skills!

Nonetheless, a few guidelines are being experimented around the world and should suffice for the curious teacher. Most of it revolves around personalized learning, where emphasis is placed on learner uniqueness based on interests, needs, strengths, skills, and cultural realities.

1. Adaptive & flexible teacher of the 21st century

The challenges the new teacher faces begin by acknowledging the emerging teaching/learning realities in the 21st Century. Teaching has moved away from the classroom, into the learner-centered environment.

The teacher is challenged to work closely with students, learn their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and skills, and become aware of the influence of technology in their lives.

Learners today utilize mobile gadgets and applications as their primary sources of information, knowledge, and social discourse. However, despite these advances in educational technologies and the way learners have adapted to their changing environments, many classrooms today still employ teaching methods of the past: lecture formats, unauthentic assessments, and rote learning.


Of course, the acknowledgment comes with its boons and banes. The 21st Century is loaded with innovations and dependencies that keep changing, and the teacher must remain trendy.

The modern teacher must be aware that learners too, are now acquiring and challenging incorrect information from a teacher who fails to keep up to speed with the new realities.  

Also true is the explosion of FAKE data and information, where the educator has an uphill task to sort between what is right and wrong.

2. A lifelong learner

Whereas the teacher focuses on facilitating knowledge and skill acquisition – and most of the time BASED on what he too acquired from previous teachers and life experiences, the evolving trends in technology require he stays on top of the knowledge curve with new information. He must be an ardent follower of global trends in education, assess their relevance, and implement them in collaboration with the learners.

The drive to remain current becomes a motivating factor, which should trickle down to the learner.

The educator, therefore, is a persistent learner and a greedy one at that, of emerging knowledge base and smart trends.

He should also be knowledgeable in:

  • global cultural diversity
  • civil literacy
  • learner strengths & weaknesses

3. Tech savvy educator for smart learning

Technology is the fulcrum upon which productivity and socio-economic existence are based. It is used extensively in science, finance, manufacturing, the labor market, social-economic environment, communication, and domestic installations.

At the heart of the listed environments, technology is designed to explore and store data, and improve productivity, even as new innovations keep happening. New technology means new ways to affect productivity, communication, and teaching.

For the Teacher, it calls for the right balance between old learning models and emerging technologies.

A case in point is the implementation of the Smart Learning Environment (SLE) to ensure learning remains relevant.

smart learning is founded on two different types of technology: smart devices and intelligent technologies. Smart devices refer to artefacts that exhibit some properties of ubiquitous computing, including (although not necessarily) artificial intelligence; for instance, the Internet of things, wearable technology in the form of an accessory such as glasses, a backpack, or even clothing’ (p. 3). Intelligent technologies refer to learning analytics, cloud computing and AI capabilities, and are vital in capturing valuable learning data that can effectively enhance the development of personalized and adaptive learning

Regardless, the teacher has to evolve with the advancements, experiment with new hardware and software, and sort out relevant components for an improved learning experience.  

Below are areas where the tech-savvy teacher could spend some time:

  • Track learner progress as an attribute of SLE
  • Analyze and explore technology smartly and extensively
  • Discover and recognize new learning environment
  • Integrate apps, multimedia, and e-learning tools
  • Promote the use of online virtual and other smart tools
  • Get to understand Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning better
  • Bridge learning communities and environment

A deeper look into the workings of technology will motivate the tech-savvy teacher to shape even better syllabi for future educators and learners.

4. Team leader & collaborator

Unlike the traditional modal of learning where knowledge was a reserve of the teacher, inside the classroom, in the library or prepped learning facilities, information today is no longer a monopoly.

Only a few years ago, all a teacher had to do was walk into the classroom with a textbook and get the job done. He reproduced his notes for students to copy. Understandably, the students consumed whatever was given superficially as gospel truth. This approach produced many great men and of course, not so great men.

But times have changed since information is no longer a reserve of any one person. Learners today acquire information from multiple sources and collaborations. These notably include internet repositories, collaborations, and public libraries. Information is available through a click, a swipe, a tap on mobile screens, and audio-visual interactions with voice assistants.

With new innovations and variant lines of thoughts, the teacher of the 21st Century should get out of his shell and

  • become literate about global matters
  • encourage learner-centered education – cooperative learning
  • is inclusive of every learner
  • promote smart communication skills
  • preach accountability and responsibility
  • encourage digital citizenship
  • create new learning avenues
  • enable critical thinking and problem solving
  • become visionary and inspirational of what is coming next
  • encourage career learning and guidance of the learners
  • promote hands-on knowledge and skills
  • integrate the family, community, and leaders to enhance learner experience
  • invite subject professionals or science experts
  • cultivate sensitivity/tolerance to different cultures and religious affiliations

5. The creative & innovative educator

It is incumbent upon the teacher of the 21st Century to instill creative and innovative intelligence in young learners, based on their skillsets, interest, and motivation. Creative teaching is helpful in promoting original thought and action and challenges the mind to look for NEW ideas and solutions to emerging challenges.

The antiquated education system prepared learners for static job markets they would meet once they graduated. Whereas the strategy worked for decades, the dawn of technology and globalization has dented the status quo in the second and third waves of digital transformation. The job market is evolving remarkably with open spaces and evolved work skills.

Out of the many, the teacher can participate and encourage some or all of these:

  • flipped learning
  • playful learning
  • critical thinking in solving problems
  • creative collaborations
  • imaginative games
  • cooperative learning
  • design tests
  • instructional scaffolding

Established and startup firms are constantly looking for new ideas to create better and new products for the emerging smart markets. Likewise, the modern-day life challenges arising from urbanization and globalization are a cue for creatives to come up with smart ideas that help to solve 21st Century challenges.

6. Role model & mentor

Today, more than ever, children and learners find themselves at crossroads in the journey towards adulthood. The extremely competitive and divergent cultures present challenges on parenting, morality, and of course education! Matters are made worse by urbanization, street violence, substance abuse, and of course cyber criminality. The youth have to endure unbearable challenges if they are to grow into responsible adults.

For this and many other factors, the teacher of the 21st Century is obliged to set a good example by becoming a good role model.

The teacher should be:

  • sensitive to learner real-life challenges
  • reflective of leaner emotional challenges
  • sensitive to learner challenges in children
  • teach ethical values
  • appropriately religious and aware of divergent views
  • a mentor on cyberbullying
  • aware and mentor on inappropriate content online
  • appropriately sociable
  • a champion of physical wellness in the tech era of a sedentary lifestyle

Additional characteristics of the aspiring teacher of the 21st Century:

  • Personalized instructor
  • Enthusiastic about teaching-learning experience
  • Dynamic
  • The storyteller of the 21st Century