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  1. Introduction
  2. The Focus Factor 8 Essential Twenty-First Century Thinking Skills for Deeper Student Learning
  3. The Twenty-First Century Curriculum: Issues and Challenges | SpringerLink
  4. Government of Canada navigation bar

Email to a Friend. This revised Australian edition of The Focus Factor examines the importance of an essential set of thinking skills that supports the Australian Curriculum and promotes success for students in 21st-century life, school and work. Whatever your subject, The Focus Factor offers:. Starting with cognitive psychologist Reuven Feuerstein's pioneering Theory of Mediated Learning, The Focus Factor provides a rationale for teaching skills that focuses on deeper learning. Overall, the majority of these findings call for better linkages to support learning across jurisdictions and disciplines—building a better foundation for using theory and research to guide teaching and learning, and vice versa.

It is time to open these pathways. SSHRC invites researchers and stakeholders from all sectors to examine these and other social sciences and humanities insights, and to continue exploring new ways of teaching and learning, for the benefit of Canada and the world. Faced with the specific knowledge base and skill set required for 21st century prosperity, Canada, like many other countries, is focusing critical attention on its education system, in terms of pedagogy, structure and delivery, from K through postsecondary education.


Fresh insights are emerging, both in the research community and in other sectors, on new—and potentially, more effective— methods of teaching and learning to support an innovative, resilient and diverse society. It does so by encouraging research preparedness, informing decision-making, and expanding cross-sector collaboration and partnerships for research and training. What new ways of learning, particularly in higher education, will Canadians need in order to thrive in an evolving society and labour market?

What effects will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage? How are the experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada essential to building a successful shared future? What might the implications of global peak population be for Canada? How can emerging technologies be leveraged to benefit Canadians? What knowledge will Canada need to thrive in an interconnected, evolving global landscape?

The breadth of resources, perspectives and areas of inquiry covered by the future challenge area on new ways of learning necessitated a broad synthesis of the current state of knowledge; this would include assessing and evaluating its overall quality, accuracy and rigor, and identifying knowledge gaps. Its goal was to mobilize research knowledge within the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Twenty projects were selected, ranging from studies of experiential learning and the unique needs of Aboriginal learners, to digital literacy skills, STEM curriculum and the development of soft skills.

A number of projects included interdisciplinary approaches and new data analysis techniques—such as complexity theory. The Knowledge Synthesis Grant opportunity was complemented by a range of activities across Canada. A May workshop provided networking opportunities among the grant recipients and with a range of field leaders in academia, non-profits, industry and government. Insights from the 20 synthesis projects were also shared at a national forum in November Held in collaboration with the Federation of Social Sciences and Humanities , the forum was attended by researchers and educators, as well as policy-makers and business and community sector leaders.

View Video on YouTube. Description: Graduate students highlight the benefits of collaborative and inter-disciplinary research. The students were asked to share their expectations and inspirations for 21st century learning, as well as to discuss the five other future challenge areas.

More than graduate students at 28 universities across Canada participated in the dialogues. They called for a breaking down of silos among disciplines, institutions and across all sectors of society. Many stressed the importance of more collaborative and inquiry-based learning, supported by new technologies to foster critical problem-solving skills and encourage greater innovation.

The dialogues are documented in reports prepared by CAGS and the host universities. The report begins with key conclusions drawn from the knowledge synthesis reports. Fulsome accounts of the findings—as well as identified knowledge gaps to help guide future work—are detailed in the synthesis reports. The individual reports are available from the researchers responsible contact information is provided in the section below. SSHRC invites you to connect and participate on this and other future challenge areas.

The list of knowledge synthesis projects is organized in alphabetical order, by principal investigator. Catherine Bruce , Trent University. Spatial reasoning, the ability to make sense of objects and space, and to mentally insert ourselves in a situation to solve a problem, is vitally important for people of all ages. A complex network analysis maps current disciplinary studies in spatial reasoning and assesses where links are beginning to be forged, and where more are needed with the field of Education.

Jacquelyn Burkell , Western University. Full Report. A review of teaching in French immersion and Francophone minority communities point to a number of different and common challenges to optimizing learning outcomes and promoting francophone language and culture, in the context of changing social and intercultural realities. Building cultural identity is a central focus of Francophone minority programs, while French immersion programs are primarily concerned with providing English speakers access to a bilingual program.

There is very little research on the role that teacher training and pedagogy play in meeting the teaching challenges within both environments. Full Report in French only. For many years, governments, industry and Aboriginal communities have significantly invested in workforce training, professional development and upgrading, and employment-based skills preparation, with the shared goal of encouraging greater Aboriginal participation in the market economy.

Despite these efforts, the same barriers and best practices have existed since the s. Change has been slow due to weak collaboration as well as systemic policy and funding issues. More importantly, research has shown that barriers to education and labour market development begin to arise in early childhood and have cumulative affects throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Successful outcomes require a holistic approach that fully supports the learner, their families and their communities with quality and culturally-relevant programs and delivery methods.

Wendy Cukier , Ryerson University. There is also a misalignment between employers and educators and graduates, on the demand as well as expectations and perceptions of the soft skills that graduates across all disciplines possess. In addition to greater collaboration, clearer and consistent assessments, new training strategies and learning models, and addressing biases related to diversity are critical to developing these essential skills.

Isha DeCoito , Western University. According to the international Programme for International Student Assessment, students in many countries, including Canada, have not demonstrated significant gains in math and science between and A national overview of initiatives seeking to generate more interest in science, technology, engineering and math STEM and their impact within K education, which plays a foundational role in future studies and career choices, suggests a growing imperative for research and policy in this area, as well as a vibrant STEM-based network community. Frank Deer , University of Manitoba.

It is essential that Indigenous knowledge and perspectives be integrated in a reasonable manner into postsecondary education curriculum and research to ensure experiences are relevant to Aboriginal learners and their families and communities. Provincially-legislated organizational models, critical to providing services to students with disabilities or special needs, vary widely across the country and are increasingly the responsibility of schools.

A review of models across 15 countries underlines the use of heterogeneous vs. Professional development and pedagogy support are essential to fostering these emerging collaborative learning models. Martine Durier-Copp , Dalhousie University. E-learning has transformed traditional ways of learning in higher education, and its flexibility is fundamental to increasing accessibility and fostering a lifelong learning society.

However, Canada is trailing behind innovative efforts of other countries in postsecondary and workplace e-learning training. Understanding the social component of learning is a key factor of e-learning success, which impacts motivation, critical thinking and reflection, deeper learning, and knowledge mobilization. Context, behaviour and resources are fundamental drivers within a proposed e-learning framework for effective e-learning delivery models and virtual team practices. While citizen science exhibits considerable potential as an experiential model of environmental education, there is currently little empirical evidence within on the ground citizen science projects on climate change to suggest that nature-based citizen science is promoting transformative learning in the area of climate change.

Importantly, this does not imply that transformative learning is not possible or that it is not already taking place in this context.

The Focus Factor 8 Essential Twenty-First Century Thinking Skills for Deeper Student Learning

In particular, there is a need for studies that partner evaluation specialists with scientific scholars who are leading citizen science programs. Industry, government and universities in Canada frequently identify global citizenship as an important outcome of education; however, there are great discrepancies across universities in their understanding of what it means and how it can be achieved. The report puts forward a framework to enable institutions to develop explicit definitions and to consider the complex and interconnected processes of developing global citizenship within strategic plans, as well as ways to evaluate their efforts.

Lillie Lum , York University. The ability to read and communicate clearly in writing in the health workplace is critical to the professional advancement of the individual and the effectiveness of their profession.

The importance of teaching students how to write in academic programs is well documented, but much less is known about how to improve the writing ability of the English-as-a-second-language ESL learner. While there are promising practices that can be applied to promote academic literacy of ESL students, including discipline specific and reflective writing and cross-curriculum writing assignments, more research is needed to address the unique learning needs of ESL students.

While distance education has significantly expanded and improved access to postsecondary education over the last 20 years, student perseverance and quality of learning remain problematic. Peer-to-peer interactions have been shown to produce positive learning outcomes in e-learning when students engage in authentic learning experiences. However, most distance learners at the postsecondary level do not seek out interactions with peers.

Increased teacher training in pedagogical uses of media-based interaction devices as well as greater communication of challenges and benefits of these exchanges appear to be key strategies to enhance the impacts of postsecondary distance education. Siomonn Pulla , Royal Roads University. The adoption of mobile learning to enhance e-learning has grown exponentially across the globe. This includes increased use within Indigenous communities. Research shows, however, that Canada lags in its adoption of mobile learning innovations for Indigenous education.

Case studies on mobile learning in Canada show promise of integrating its portability, low cost and versatility into culturally-relevant teaching modalities for Indigenous peoples. A comprehensive approach that includes the development of mobile-assisted language learning; access to affordable and reliable 21st century connectivity infrastructure and technology; and a greater alignment of indigenous pedagogy and approaches to education that link theory and practice will increase the potential for urban, rural and remote Indigenous communities and learners in Canada to benefit from these learning technologies.

Since their inception, these programs have had to balance the paradox of values found in the arts and management fields. To ensure effective training of flexible and creative arts managers, arts management teaching texts need to be better informed by research on complex and pluralistic organizations, entrepreneurship and innovation, and international applications.

Brian Rubineau , McGill University. Progress integrating women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics STEM studies and careers has stalled over the past 15 years in Canada.

To help surmount obstacles faced by women during school-to-work transitions, new ideas and interventions grounded in peer social processes are needed. A review of the integration of digital textbooks at the postsecondary level examines how educators and students are using formatting functions and what added values they offer. While there is consensus on their functionalities, teaching and learning strategies, and conditions to achieve their potential in postsecondary education, literature on the pedagogical efficacy of e-textbooks is contradictory. Research is limited to perceptions and attitudes towards digital textbooks.

Empirical research is needed on real learning applications, the views of educators, and institutional resources and support for educators. Michael Smit , Dalhousie University. We are a data-rich society, and all sectors are struggling with making the best possible use of the volume of data available to them. In addition to the deep technical expertise needed, analysts agree there is a need for a data-literate workforce, and that this need is not currently being met. An assessment by a multi-disciplinary research team of existing strategies and best practices for teaching data literacy provides a clear definition and list of key competencies, and a systematic approach to data literacy education, predominantly at the undergraduate level.

The significant growth in course-based community service-learning CSL programs and activities in Canadian postsecondary institutions since the s has been mirrored by the growth in scholarly literature and practitioner resources in North America. Institutions are using CSL as an innovative pedagogical approach that helps students integrate theoretical and practical knowledge and helps develop more critically engaged citizens.

Nevertheless, more research on CSL in Canadian postsecondary education is still needed to inform program design and activities, ensure relevance and clarity of purpose, and acknowledge diversity. Janice Waddell , Ryerson University. A study of community services-based fields reveals that uneven disciplinary engagement, a lack of common definitions and outcomes assessments, and an overemphasis on a small number of experiential learning methods are key challenges to enhancing teaching pedagogies, curricula and educational policy. Building on the outcomes of the knowledge synthesis reports, the following eight themes were identified as key areas of interest for stakeholder discussions on the state of teaching and learning in Canada.

Collectively, these themes illustrate the benefits of connecting social sciences and humanities researchers with potential users of their research, to exchange ideas and explore opportunities for future collaboration. Here we outline some of the connecting ideas, preliminary policy and practice recommendations, and research gaps drawn from the knowledge synthesis reports and dialogue with researchers, practitioners and policy-makers throughout To obtain more information on the findings included in the reports, and details on both current and proposed knowledge mobilization activities, please contact the lead investigators.

In the context of skills training and workplace development strategies, while there is little critical academic literature, there exists a growing body of government and non-government-authored reports and studies. Cross-sector discussions strongly acknowledged the importance of integrative, holistic and culturally relevant policies and programming for learning and skills training, from K through postsecondary education.

With a strong dual focus on language and the building of meaningful long-term partnerships, a number of insights can help lead to successful learning and employment outcomes for Aboriginal learners, their families and communities. Over the past decade, institutions, industry and different levels of governments have prioritized and developed strategies towards building global citizenship. There is greater understanding and discussion, particularly at the postsecondary level, of the substantial benefits to sending Canadians abroad to both contribute to and gain from global knowledge and perspectives, as well as from the richness brought to classrooms, the labour force and society when Canadian institutions welcome international students.

Nevertheless, studies show that Canada still lags both in developing a strong study-abroad culture and in attracting international students for meaningful learning experiences. Some key challenges facing both Canadian and international students include prohibitive costs, lack of language proficiency, safety concerns and worries over social integration of international students in Canada. Despite these challenges, Canada maintains great potential to play a leadership role in international education. In order to better engage students with the globalized world and economy, and to address some of the documented barriers, postsecondary institutions must consider how institutional policies and modes of teaching and learning can reflect the new global reality.

An active dialogue is taking place on how best to deliver these hands-on, student-centred learning approaches that involve ongoing reflection with a focus on developing socially-minded citizens. The lack of common definitions and empirical evidence on outcomes in terms of contributions to transformative learning is underlined, as well as uneven engagement amongst disciplines. A focus on diversity was underscored in discussions, as well as the need for both top-down and grassroots approaches and incentives to allow experiential models to innovate and flourish.

Anticipation for these learning models was weighed with calls to maintain balance with traditional approaches and to ensure approaches are contextualized. A number of innovations taking place in K education are placing greater emphasis on building essential 21st century competencies. For example, new pedagogical approaches, such as inquiry-based and collaborative models, lead to deeper forms of learning in order to foster the creative and critical analytical thinking skills necessary to solve complex problems.

While studies show that teachers worldwide value these pedagogical approaches, the models themselves are not significantly reflected in teaching practice. Voices call for institutional and policy flexibility as well as an openness by parents to allow for exploration and innovations leading to transformative changes in our learning culture.

The Twenty-First Century Curriculum: Issues and Challenges | SpringerLink

Greater collaboration and more emphasis on pedagogical training are needed, as are curricula adjustments. Insights highlight collaborative teaching and peer learning, as well as valuing diversity as central approaches to meet the needs of diverse and special-needs students. Technological advances have led to significant disruptions in teaching and learning. Novel use or combinations of existing products and services, or game-changing technologies will continue to transform society and education over the next 20 years.

These innovations, in addition to further disruptions linked to increased global mobility, are changing the way we learn and teach and how we think of education itself and its organisation. The syntheses, which focused primarily on postsecondary education and continuous learning, provide insights on how distributive or distance learning models, enabled through advances in technology, intelligent software, and multi-media, provide increased access, flexibility and choice as well as challenges for both learners and teachers.

Virtual social connections and the role of educators and teacher training are identified as essential factors to optimizing e-learning experiences and outcomes. However, e-learning and techno-pedagogical models and supports such as e-textbooks still lack consensus on their efficacy. In recent years, the collection, analysis, storage, sharing and use of data has increased dramatically in all sectors. It is also raising important legal and ethical questions on issues related to information security, privacy and ownership. PBL students discuss professionally relevant problems in small groups.

After this individual self-study period i. The group discussion is facilitated by a teacher i.

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PBL does, on the one hand, actively engage students in their own learning and, on the other hand, includes many scaffolds to enhance student learning such as carefully designed problems and a group discussion facilitated by a tutor. The design of the PBL process i. Instead of learning small parts piece by piece, PBL emphasizes the integration of knowledge and skills. Besides learning content knowledge during the reporting phase, students also learn how to understand the underlying mechanisms of the problem at hand and hence, their problem-solving skills get trained at the same time.

In other words, since students discuss relationships between concepts and principles, integrate different literature resources, apply these concepts and principles to the problems that are discussed in the group, and integrate knowledge and skills, PBL is assumed to encourage a deep approach to learning. The present review study is aimed at investigating the effects of PBL on deep and surface learning. We define deep learning in terms of students approaches to learning, reflecting both intentions or motives and actual strategies.

We consider a deep learning approach as being intrinsically interested and aimed at trying to understand what is being studied. A surface approach is defined as an intention and strategy that is mainly aimed at rote learning and studying to pass the test. In this review we focus on studies conducted in a problem-based learning environment. In line with earlier reviews on the effects of PBL e. In addition, when reviewing the relevant papers we will focus on the validity of the tools used to measure deep and surface approaches as well as the type of design or methodological quality of the studies.

In this way, our study aims to meet the recommendations made by Dinsmore and Alexander mentioned earlier. The research questions addressed in this study are:. Do the effects differ across a the context of the learning environment single course vs. According to the Campbell Collaboration, a systematic review of the literature should include 1 clear criteria for inclusion, 2 a clear search strategy 3 systematic coding and 4 a systematic analyses of the included studies, using meta-analyses techniques were appropriate www.

We will discuss below how we have taken these four recommendations into account in our review of the literature. Several criteria were defined for inclusion of studies in our review. Second, each study should contain empirical data dealing with a deep or surface approach to learning. We did not restrict our studies to studies in which PBL curricula were compared with other curricula, nor did we restrict to quantitative studies; we included studies using different methodologies. Studies published between and were searched. The keywords used were: problem based learning, PBL, problem oriented learning, POL, problem-based approach, problem-based learning program, and PBLP in combination with deep learning, deep-rooted learning, deep understanding, rote learning, surface learning, and superficial learning.

The studies were selected based on title and abstract. Based upon reading these studies, 21 papers were included in this review. Based on our research questions, we developed a scheme to code and summarize all studies included.

The Most Shamefully Named Path to Success (The Focus Factor™)

The summaries were made by one of the authors HM and read by all other authors. The first author DD modified the summaries for those parts that were not yet clearly summarized in the opinion of the other authors. The overall study quality was rated based on the points that were received; a total score of 3 or lower was considered to be a study with low quality; a score of 4 and 5 as moderate, and a score of 6 till 8 as high quality.

Finally, factors influencing approaches to learning were summarized in words. Disagreements were resolved through discussion. For our purposes, a systematic review of the literature was conducted accompanied by the vote counting method and the associated sign test Cooper et al. If the original studies reported the necessary information, also effect sizes were calculated for each individual study based on the standardized mean differences following Lipsey and Wilson Furthermore, 12 studies were done in a curriculum wide PBL implementation and nine in a single course PBL environment.

PBL does lead to a decrease in deep approach in four studies and has no effect on deep approach in another six studies. PBL does lead to a decrease in surface learning in six studies and an increase in four studies. It should be mentioned, however, that this difference between studies fostering and lowering a deep approach to learning, was not statistically significant.

The average effect size of. As for the effects of PBL on surface learning approaches, eleven studies show no effect on surface learning, six studies show a lower score or decrease and four studies an increase in surface learning. Again, the two-sided sign-test was not significant for the number of studies decreasing and increasing a surface approach to learning and also the average effect size of.

The vote count indicated that for curriculum wide PBL implementations, seven studies showed an increase in deep learning, three studies led to a decrease in deep learning and two studies showed no effect. The effect size of. Four studies indicated a decrease in surface learning, whereas three studies showed an increase in surface approach and another five studies no effect. However, the two-sided sign-tests were not significant for both the effects on deep and surface approaches to learning, meaning that the difference in number of studies reporting an increase and decrease in both deep and surface approaches to learning, is not statistically significant.

Also the effect size of. Effects of PBL curriculum wide and single course implementations: vote counts and effect sizes. The vote count showed that four studies showed an increase in deep learning, one study led to a decrease on deep learning and four studies showed no effect. Similarly to the results for curriculum wide implementations, the two-sided sign-tests were not significant for both the effects on deep and surface approaches to learning. Hence, the difference in number of studies fostering or hindering both deep and surface approaches to learning was not statistically significant.

However, for single course PBL implementations, the majority of the studies did not show an effect on surface approaches to learning. In terms of study designs, eleven studies involved experimental control group studies and ten studies used a one group design.

In total, 14 pre-post test study designs were used and seven post-test only designs. Only one study was a longitudinal study with three measurement moments. The sample size was clearly above 40 in 16 out of 21 studies. The majority of the studies did make use of the Study Process Questionnaire developed by John Biggs and colleagues 11 studies. Only three studies reported about the validity of the instrument used and seven studies about the reliability of the data. In total, eight studies had a high overall study quality score a score of 5, 6 or 7.

With respect to surface learning, two studies showed a decrease, one study an increase and five no effect. Similar to the results regarding the scale of PBL implementation, the two-sided sign-tests were not significant for both the effects on deep and surface approaches to learning. Seven studies gave evidence of an increase in deep learning, four studies led to a decrease on deep learning and two studies showed no effect.

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For surface approaches to learning, six studies showed a decrease, one study showed an increase and six studies showed no effects. For medium—low quality studies, although almost half of the studies found no effect on surface approaches to learning, the effect size of. Again, the two-sided sign-tests were not significant for both the effects on deep and surface approaches to learning, meaning no differences could be found in the number of studies showing an increase versus a decrease for both deep and surface approaches to learning.

This review was aimed at investigating the effects of PBL on deep and surface approaches to learning. Dinsmore and Alexander made a plea to study deep learning approaches from a clear theoretical framework and within a specific context; a specific learning environment. We addressed these points in this review. The review demonstrated that eleven of the 21 the studies give indications that PBL does encourage a deep approach to learning and in eleven of the 21 studies measuring surface learning, PBL had no effect on a surface approach.

The mechanisms through which PBL is assumed to enhance deep learning are active and self-directed learning. PBL is considered an active form of learning, since students need to analyze, compare, contrast, and explain information Serife They are actively involved in their learning process because they themselves need to develop and explain hypotheses for the problem at hand and search for evidence for these explanations and hypotheses, using various literature and other learning resources Gurpinar et al.

Self-directed learning comes into play in PBL since students take responsibility over their own learning. They have, to a certain degree and within the boundaries of the problem, the freedom to select their own resources to answer the learning issues, which gives them ownership over their learning. This effect is possibly mediated through intrinsic motivation. A recent PBL study in which having the freedom to choose literature resources i.

Is this good news or not? It could be argued that this finding is in a way a positive effect too. Nevertheless we should also take into account that in some situations a surface approach or perhaps better a combination of a deep and surface approach should best be used to learn effectively Dinsmore and Alexander A high perceived workload will more likely result in surface approaches to studying and might be detrimental for deep learning.

Students who perceive the workload as high in their learning environment are more likely to display a lack of interest in their studies as well as exhaustion. This is particularly true for beginning PBL students Litmanen et al. Another factor that can lead to more surface learning is the assessment methods used. If the assessment is perceived as not rewarding deep learning, students will rely on surface learning.

Therefore, the role of assessment is important to take into account in studies on SAL. Entwistle et al. A qualitative study by Al Kadri et al. Scouller and Jensen et al. Although most studies demonstrate that PBL does enhance deep learning and has no effect on surface learning, this review also shows that studies often result in ambiguous and inconsistent findings as is also concluded by Dinsmore and Alexander One reason is that only three studies out of 21 studies reported about the validity of the data and eight about the reliability of the data.

Often evidence of validity was lacking as concluded before by Dinsmore and Alexander Within this review we investigated deep learning within a specific context, being PBL. Although the studies demonstrated a trend towards a positive effect on deep learning and no effect on surface learning, findings differed across studies which could indicate that PBL is applied differently across the different studies, even although we included only studies in this review that met our definition of PBL.

In addition, in one study it was argued that students already displayed high scores on deep learning due to which it might be difficult to further improve deep learning Reid et al. This review has several limitations. Next, the relationship with academic achievement was not considered in this review.

Further, the number of longitudinal studies and qualitative studies was limited and some studies included only one group i. As mentioned, not all studies included reported data about the validity and reliability of the instruments used to measure deep and surface processing, although the majority of the studies used previously validated instruments. Not all the studies included in the review reported the necessary information to calculate effect sizes.

Hence, effect sizes of only 16 studies were included and aggregated across different study designs. Longitudinal studies provide opportunities to measure how approaches to learning might differ over time, although it should be taken into account that characteristics of the learning environment may also vary over time.

Qualitative studies are needed as well since they could give us better insight in why and how PBL does or does not enhance deep and surface processing. Finally, future studies should report validity and reliability data of the instruments used to measure deep and surface processing. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Advances in Health Sciences Education.

Published online Nov Diana H. Dolmans , 1 Sofie M. Sofie M. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Dolmans, Phone: 00 31 43 , Email: ln.