The design of the 21st-century classroom differs in many ways from the 20th-century classroom. Away from the teacher-centered approach, the new classroom focuses on the whole learner and integrative approaches to learning.

The end goal is to design an environment that enhances active learning, critical thinking, creativity, innovation, collaboration, effective communication, in addition to leadership skills.

These will ensure learners leave the classroom with a responsive mindset, relevant knowledge, and practical skills they will put into active use when they enter the real world.

… of note!

The push towards a meaningful 21st-century classroom ONLY received the boost it deserved in 2020, thanks to the overwhelming impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The impact is best illustrated by the nightmares the ‘traditional’ classrooms went through as most remained closed and teachers stayed at home.

The implosion of the old classroom forced many to come up with emergency instructional strategies to ensure learners and teachers were kept busy.

Foremost of these strategies was remote learning through online classrooms, televisions, social media, telephones, and postal mails. Yes, the latter still exists!

This transformation was only a sign of things to come and shows how stakeholders are embracing blended learning & preparing to adapt to future educational requirements.

For the most part, the teacher of the 21st century and the setup of the 21st-century classroom will not be the same again.

The ideal 21st-century classroom:

redefining the 21st century classroom

Well, the 21st-century classroom is not necessarily defined by remote learning and technology ONLY. Just as well, the new classroom should not be limited by walls, and instead, be subject to random re-designs and creativity.

Whatever shape it takes, the new classroom should be roomy enough to accommodate dynamic learning experiments and activities.

As for the teacher, he will remain central to the classroom environment much as his roles continue to evolve. His readiness to adapt to the emerging learning dynamics is what matters the most.

Also true, and just like before, the focus on the core curriculum will remain important, in preparation for an all-out STEM-based curriculum that is still taking shape.

1. Student centered classroom

Effective teaching is no longer based on the antiquated data dumping methodology used in the 20th century. Instead, the new classroom is focused on the teacher helping learners to discover themselves, and explore opportunities through active learning.

Unlike in the past, where learning was founded on memorizing and recalling notes, learners today should actively use information and classroom tools at their disposal to think critically and figure out how knowledge can be applied.

This calls for critical thinking and problem-solving skills, in addition to curiosity, creativity, innovation, imagination, etc.

This way, they learn to develop a micro experience of the real world in the classroom.

They can be helped to discover their thinking potentials through inquiry, curiosity. and collaboration techniques.

Learners should also have the freedom to have opinions on the subjects at hand. It may not matter whether they are right or wrong, because persistent practice will always make them better.

2. Integration of technology in the classroom

Technology affects most aspects of our lives today, and it comes with no surprise that it should be integral to the classroom environment. It is by far the most used tool in large and small-scale industries, in the entertainment industry, and practically, everything else.

Since both learners and teachers use technology devices away from the classroom, there is no reason these should stay out of the classroom.

The earlier (in the classroom) they begin to understand how technology works, the better they will be at embracing it in the workplace.

The inclusion of computers, tablets, and other screens through blended learning is a sure way to unleash the world into the classroom, by letting them know whatever happens in other classrooms around the world.

By using multimedia and other visual elements in the classroom, learners become fully engaged and will better retain the information they see, hear, and read.

Technology is also central to communication especially through the internet, direct communication, and facilitation of information in the workplace.

Building on traditional literacy which promoted reading and writing as core skills, communication today encompasses much more. It includes conventional literacies such as computer literacy and media literacy.

Learners today are supposed to be clear, concise, and effective writers, and readers, just as they should communicate effectively through computers and all multimedia forms.

3. Collaborative learning and leadership practises in the classroom

The art of collaboration is important in the classroom just as it is applicable in the workplace. A learner that excels in classroom collaborations is better placed to excel in workplace collaborations.

A collaborative environment is a resourceful pool since it promotes support, inquiry, creativity, and the drive to accomplish tasks and goals. It is where the job gets done despite many challenges.

The same environment is critical in building confidence and tolerance of deferring opinions and ideas.

This is a critical skill in the workplace where tempers can flare. Persistent interaction with divergent opinions in group settings allows learners to accept this as part of life and learn to deal with them maturely.

The teacher is supposed to be well in charge of collaborative activities in order to install a practical sense of leadership in the classroom.

Even better, the teacher and learners can swap roles to allow either party to understand the different roles of teamwork and leadership.

4. Promotion of critical thinking & creativity

For learners to excel in the new century, they should get equipped with the mental abilities to analyze and figure out solutions to life challenges they encounter. They can do this by thinking critically and using appropriate problem-solving techniques.

These sets of abilities take time to master and must be cultivated in the classroom from early on. This is best started during the formative years when the brain is growing pretty fast and grasping new information.

At this age and time, learners should be challenged to develop independent thinking by always defending their arguments with sound reasons. While at it, they should come up with strong explanations and examples to prove they understand what they are defending.

As children go through pre and elementary school they explore new opportunities, become creative, and learn to apply classroom information in real-life situations. Their ability to master even more knowledge can be boosted via numerous methodologies such as interdisciplinary learning.

This type of classroom presentation used to be the teachers’ role but now that learners have become collaborators in the classroom, they also deserve to be heard.

Learner involvement can be done verbally by solving problems in the classroom, in addition to answering tests and homework.

5. A flexible new classroom

The 21st-century classroom is dynamic and geared towards creativity, innovation, and the search for new knowledge. These factors should be reflected in the classroom environment through the accommodation of flexibility and random shapes.

Class arrangements should be designed in such a way that they attend to learner needs and innovations, in addition, to mimicking the workplace as much as possible.

Sitting in rows should be a thing of the past as teacher position in the classroom is now random because it is based on collaborative demands.

Learners too should not be limited to static positions all day. They can move around too as they make inquiries and suggestions. Controlled mobility in the classroom is good for physical health, active engagement, and promotes face-to-face interactions.

Mobility in the 21st-century classroom is attained with the use of standing tables – such as in the science laboratory, kidney tables, bean bags, exercise balls, etc. The possibilities are limitless and only limited by the teacher and learner creativity.

Finally, the new classroom should not be bound by walls. Learners can have random and mobile lessons inside the school property or even better, through excursions in the community and distant areas of interest.

These are helpful for their mental health, enhances creativity, and engages their senses.

Challenges with the 21st-century classroom

Like everything else in life, the 21st-century classroom, comes with its challenges, notwithstanding the costs of implementing it fully.

First is the question of order which may vary depending on the environment, learner backgrounds, and other challenges. Whereas one classroom may run peacefully, another one may encounter unnecessary drama, creating challenges for teachers and the school.

Also true, the new classroom requires added investment in teacher education and tools. Understandably, this may not favor countries where budgets are meager and tools are hard to come by.  

Even worse, the demands of the new classroom will favor children from well-to-do families, which increases the loathed inequality with children from poor families and communities.

Much will depend on interventions by rich governments and international bodies, who should provide the much-needed finances to mitigate the challenges of teacher education and tool acquisition. This may have to go hand in hand with implementing supportive learning opportunities for the very poor children in the developing world.