By Sam Piha
Bernie Trilling is the co-author of "21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times" and former global director of the Oracle Education Foundation. A more complete bio follows this interview.
Mr. Trilling's book introduces a framework for 21st Century learning that maps out the skills needed to survive and thrive in a complex and connected world. To read more about or purchase this book, click here.
Q: What do you see as the role and the unique advantages of afterschool programs to support these skills today?
A: Afterschool programs have the freedom to provide young people the time to pursue their passions and explore their interests in a deep way. “Going deep” in a learning project, and becoming a respected expert among your friends can provide levels of self-confidence and pride that can literally change a person’s life course!
Q: There are those who claim that young people who are behind academically, particularly those children that are low income and of color, cannot afford time spent in developing these 21st century skills. How do you respond?
A: Oftentimes it is the lack of opportunity to build these skills through deeper learning experiences focused on something personally relevant that contributes to low academic performance. There are so many examples of previously unmotivated and academically unengaged students becoming higher achievers once they’ve experienced learning that actively supports them in mastering something meaningful. If you successfully climb one big mountain, it’s easier to tackle others with confidence.
Q: What can afterschool programs do to improve their efforts to help youth develop 21st century learning skills? Are there specific learning and teaching strategies you would recommend?
A: I would recommend the “project learning bi-cycle” approach outlined in the 21st Century Skills book, which focuses on providing good supports and guidance for each stage of the project cycle – Define, Plan, Do and Review. There are challenges in managing collaborative learning projects as well, but the rewards are huge, and the opportunities to develop critical and creative skills, individually and as a team, are priceless.
Q: How do afterschool programs communicate the importance of these skills with school personnel who are under great pressure to raise literacy and math test scores? How do we avoid the “either-or” argument?
A: I’m a big fan of “both/and” in education, and more importantly, the appropriate mix of learning experiences for each learner at their particular stage of development – personalizing learning as much as possible. Afterschool programs are the perfect complement to in-school programs because they really can focus on learning “beyond the 3R’s”; building personal motivation, engagement and confidence; and help young people gain the important 21st century skills needed for success in learning and life.
Bernie Trilling is a 21st century learning expert, advisor, author, and the former global director of the Oracle Education Foundation, where he directed the development of education strategies, partnerships, and services for the Foundation and its ThinkQuest programs. He has served as Board Member of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and co-chaired the committee that developed the highly regarded “rainbow” learning framework. He has written dozens of articles for educational journals and magazines and is a featured speaker at numerous educational conferences.