21 Century Learning Design

The 21CLD resources are a set of resources that can be used by teachers to identify improvements to lesson and unit plans to improve engagement through the use of 21st Century skills.  These resources have been developed by Microsoft, as an extension of the 4Cs.

There are 6 dimensions that the 21CLD addresses in unit plans.  They are

  1. Collaboration
  2. Knowledge Construction
  3. Self Regulation
  4. Real World Problem Solving & Innovation
  5. The Use of ICT for Learning
  6. Skilled Communication

For each of these dimensions, the 21CLD resources provides clear definitions, and a flow chart that allows teachers to identify how well their plan implements that dimension, and to improve implementation of that dimension.

Example: Collaboration

The definition for Collaboration is

Students work together when the activity requires them to work in pairs or groups to:

  • discuss an issue
  • solve a problem
  • create a product

Each of these parts can then be evaluated within a unit plan using tables like the one below.


Pairs of students give each other feedback Students do their work alone
A small group discusses issues together A whole class discussion on an issue
A student uses Skype to interview a student in another school or town.
Students use OneNote to share their story drafts and give each other feedback Each student creates his/her own story and sends it to the educator for feedback.

Each dimension also includes a Rubric to measure the effectiveness of that dimension in a unit.

Collaboration: Rubric

In this learning activity,

  1. Students are NOT required to work together in pairs or groups.
  2. Students DO work together
    • BUT they DO NOT have shared responsibility.
  3. Students DO have shared responsibility
    • BUT they ARE NOT required to make substantive decisions together.
  4. Students DO have shared responsibility
    • AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work
    • BUT their work is not interdependent.
  5. Students DO have shared responsibility
    • AND they DO make substantive decisions together about the content, process, or product of their work
    • AND their work is interdependent.

The Rubric also assists teachers in identifying how their unit can be improved in each particular dimension.

The resources are freely available for anyone to use.

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Whole School Engagement Matrix

Schlechty Levels of Engagement Rebellion Retreatism Ritual Compliance Strategic Compliance Authentic Engagement
Dimensions of Engagement Diverted Attn
No Commitment
No Attention
No Commitment
Low Attention
Low Commitment
High Attention
Low Commitment
High Attention
High Commitment
Student Goals Disrupting Learning Avoiding Learning Avoiding Punishment Learning for Grades Authentic Learning
Teacher Actions Appropriate Learning Theories Nil Nil Behaviourism Constructivism Cosmopolitanism & Enactivism
Characteristics  Direct transmission of knowledge from the teacher Learning from the world (ie from sources beyond the teacher) Learning from the world collaboratively (Cosmopolitanism) and through interaction with the world (Enactivism)
Instructional Techniques Behaviour management and Well-Being strategies High Classroom Expectations and Well-Being strategies

Direct Instruction

Explicit Instruction


Discovery Learning

Learning Intentions

Flipped Classroom




Systemic Processes Walk throughs, PD, Peer observation, Collaborative planning
Well-being and supportive structures
Teacher Goals Survival Making Success Mandatory Making Success Achievable Making Success Desirable Making Success Personal



PBL can refer to two different, but similar, teaching techniques, Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning.  There is another related technique called Case Based Learning, or CBL.

Problem Based Learning

Problem Based Learning is a technique in which students are presented with authentic and real world problems to solve.  In order to make the learning authentic, students are not taught the skills needed to solve the problem directly, but instead can receive guidance from their teacher, or ask their teacher to teach them specific required skills.  The teacher will not, however, provide ‘the answer’.  Authentic real world problems will, in any case, be open and not have a single correct answer, but many possible solutions.

Some more information on Problem Based Learning can be found at the UQ Education Faculty Website.

Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning is similar, except that students respond to an engaging question or challenge, rather than a problem. The distinction between the two is fairly small.  An excellent example of Project Based Learning at a tertiary level is the Engineers Without Borders Challenge for first year engineering students.  Each year, EWB Challenge provides students with information about a specific third world or marginalised community, and challenges students to use their skills and knowledge to design a simple and culturally appropriate improvement for the community in one of several areas, such as sanitation, communication, energy or transportation.

The Buck Institute of Education provides a range of resources to assist with the implementation of PBL.

Case Based Learning

Case Based Learning is much more structured, in that the teacher provides the information needed to solve each problem at the start of each case.  The teacher is also more active in guiding the students towards a preferred outcome.  CBL is used in cases where there is more likely to be a correct answer, rather than for open ended questions and challenges.  It is commonly used at a tertiary level in the teaching of medicine.

This reference compares CBL and PBL, in the context of medical education.  It is, however, equally relevant to primary and secondary education.

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As canvassed on the Differentiation page, Personalisation is a technique whereby simply highly engaged students are given the opportunity to negotiate the curriculum and assessment with their teacher.  Unlike Differentiation, it is the student who drives the negotiation.

Personalisation of learning can include modifications to

  • Content
  • Context
  • Environment
  • Process, and
  • Product

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Simply put, Differentiation is a process where a teacher directs students at different levels of ability to complete work at different levels of complexity.  This is not usually done on an individual basis, but by grouping students according to ability, and perhaps by work ethic.  I personally find this easy when teaching mathematics, where weaker students can be asked to complete more of the simpler questions in a set of exercises, with more capable students (or those with more experience) being asked to focus on more complex questions.

One technique that can be used to identify different groups of learners within a class using data is a schema called the Quadrants of Learners, developed at Proserpine State High School in North Queensland.

The process is as follows: students data is captured from two sources – NAPLAN results (national standardised testing) and School Curriculum results.

Students are then classified into one of four categories

  1. High Flyers – Achieves at a high level in both NAPLAN and School Curriculum
  2. Hard Workers – Achieves at a sound/high level in School Curriculum, but may not perform naturally to the same level in NAPLAN
  3. Underachievers – Achieves at a Sound/High level in NALPAN, but may not demonstrate this level in School Curriculum
  4. Strugglers – Achieves at a low level in both NAPLAN and School Curriculum


It is fairly easy to see that students in each group will be capable of different levels of complexity, and will require different levels of support to achieve.  This is not designed to be an overt exercise to separate the class into different groups, but assist the teacher in planning for each unit or lesson.  I will leave the process of differentiating work for each group to the imagination and practice of the reader.

Differentiation versus Personalisation

Differentiation, as a strategy, is often put forward as a way to provide more challenging work for Gifted & Talented students, however I disagree with this idea due to the fact that it is still highly teacher-centred.  Differentiation does not engage students beyond a minimal level as there is little ownership of learning.  There is a similar technique called Personalistion, where students make choices about and direct their own learning, based either on whole class Learning Intentions, or their own learning goals.  In this way, Personalisation is more useful with highly engaged students and reflects the learning styles present in Constructivist, Cosmopolitanist and Enactivist learning theories.

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Explicit Instruction

Explicit Instruction

Explicit Instruction, like Direct Instruction, is very much a teacher-centred teaching style, and involves a high level of lesson structure.  In comparison to Direct Instruction, Explicit Instruction is not a full program as much as a simple lesson structure that can be used to teach simple skills and processes.

The best summary of Explicit Instruction lesson structure I have come across is the “I Do, We Do, You Do” structure that is common in Queensland state schools, particularly in the North and North Queensland regions.  The three phases in a lesson are

  1. I Do – the teacher demonstrates some specific skill or process (eg solving a trigonometric problem or writing a topic sentence)
  2. We Do – the class has an opportunity to tackle the skill, guided by the teacher.
  3. You Do – the students practice the skill or process themselves, with support from the teacher only when required.

There is no explicit interaction between students in Explicit Instruction, although there is no reason that this could not be introduced.

The I Do, We Do, You Do structure can be bookended by an introductory Lesson Goal/Aim and an end of lesson feedback process which helps the teacher understand how well the lesson has been learnt.

By their nature, Explicit and Direct Instruction techniques assume that all students are at the same level, or will be learning the same content/skill/process.  There is little ownership of learning by the students, except for what is directly placed in front of them by the teacher, hence the description of these techniques as being teacher-centric learning.

It is possible, through the use of differentiation, to have students working on the same topic or idea, but at different levels of complexity.

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Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction (DI) is a model for teaching that emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks. It is based on the theory that clear instruction eliminating misinterpretations can greatly improve and accelerate learning (NFIDI, 2016).

Direct Instruction as a teaching technique is best known in Australia by it’s use in the Noel Pearson Academies in Cape York, Queensland.    It has had been credited by Pearson as being the cornerstone of the schools’ successes in increasing attendance and improvements in literacy and numeracy  in one of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia.  Others, including indigenous educator Chris Sarra (head of the Stronger, Smarter Institute) and Allan Luke (Educational Researcher) agree that DI can be useful in improving students’ basic skills, but should be used as part of a suite of teaching tools.

Here are a few of Australian articles on Direct Instruction.

Direct Instruction and the Teaching of Reading (The Conversation, July 2014)

Direct Instruction is not a Solution for Australian Schools (Allan Luke, August 2014)

The Myths and Facts about Direct Instruction  (Shaun Killian, July 2014)

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The key difference between Cosmopolitanism and Enactivism is that while Cosmopolitanism focuses on collaborative learning through observations and interactions with the world at large, Enactivism also identifies actions that result from that learning as a part of the learning process.  In other words, the learning process can itself result in action that changes the world we are studying (Sumara & Davis, 1997, p. 415).

Student Engagement

Enactivism will obviously only be relevant for students that are highly committed to their studies in a personal way, and own their education as a way to improve the world.  These students are also identified as being Authentically Engaged in the Schlechty model, as students highly committed to their own learning.

Teaching Techniques

Project Based Learning is an effective way for students to both learn about their world and learn how to make changes to the world at the same time. While designed for first year engineering students, the Engineers Without Borders Challenge is an example of the sort of instructional technique that embodies Enactivist thinking (Engineers Without Borders, 2014).

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In some ways similar to Constructivism, Cosmopolitanism as a Learning Theory also posits that students construct knowledge by reorganising information from a variety of sources, including the classroom teacher, and other sources such as their own experiences.

Cosmopolitanism differs from Constructivism in that Cosmopolitanism describes learning as a collaborative activity, and occurs as students collaboratively engage with the world.   Cosmopolitanism implies an openness to ideas and cultures that are different to our own, as a result of interaction with other people, cultures and ideas (Saito, 2010, p. 334).  This requires, from students, a high level of commitment in order to reorganise existing ideas and preconceptions to accommodate different ways of thinking, however the end result can be more enlightened and mature students, as their high level of work commitment causes a similar high level of commitment to alternate cultures and ideas (Saito, 2010, p. 342).  In a nutshell, students who work at this level are open to new ideas.

Associated Teaching Techniques

Instructional Techniques appropriate for Behaviourism are certainly not appropriate, and even Learning Intentions and Success Criteria need to be personalised, or negotiated between teachers and students.  Interaction between students and other cultures can be assisted through eLearning and Digital Pedagogies, such as is set out in Microsoft’s 21 Century Learning Design (21CLD).  Alternative techniques include PBL (and similar models) and Personalisation.

Under the Schlechty model, students working at this level are Authentically Engaged, as they are frequently directing their own learning, for their own purposes.

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