Is flexibility the ultimate “21st century skill”?

So it’s been two weeks since the first class meeting of 643. This enforced break (because of MLK, Jr. Day) was a strange way to begin a class, but it was also helpful in some ways. It has given me far too much time to work on the Week 3 assignments for the class, which usually, in my class, means procrastination, but it was also perfectly timed to give me (and several other members of the class) much needed breaks as we planned and executed Quasi-con 2012. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to not only reflect on the first class, but to reflect on it in light of the discussions and presentations that took place at Quasi-con.

In our first class, besides the overview of the course that is included in all first meetings, we also discussed the “operational assumptions” behind the course and its design, as well as the importance of instruction to librarianship (which was itself one of the operational assumptions). We discussed some of the background knowledge important to understanding instruction (including the importance of background knowledge and pre-conceptions!), some strategies for effective instruction, and the concept of “learner-centered” instruction. It was this final discussion, and the importance of being aware of the “fixed-mind” and “flexible-mind” conceptions of intelligence, that I have been thinking most about, especially during our discussions at Quasi-con.

In the morning portion of Quasi-con, we broke out into small brainstorming groups to generate ideas for the morning’s “unconference” segment. In my small group, one of the ideas we came up with was a discussion of “the way librarians shape (or don’t shape) their own future.” Being of a flexible mindset seems particularly important during this time of flux for libraries, and I think this discussion topic really gets to the core of this issue. To me, it seems logically impossible to re-invent yourself, let alone your profession, if you are of a fixed mindset. In fact, it seems to me that a lot of the tension I find in this world in flux is a conflict between the fixed and the flexible. For instance, at another point during Quasi-con, during her presentation “What the h*$%?! are 21st century skills?,” Andrea Neuhoff gave a comparison of the book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown and the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (hereafter referred to as “the Partnership”). Now, I’ve only just bought the book, and have only given a bit of a look to the Partnership’s available reports, but it seems to me that Andrea’s point is still correct: this comparison is an example of folks who are really trying to go beyond (JSB and Douglas Thomas) and folks who seem to be rehashing the old with some new language (the Partnership).

In their “Framework for 21st Century Learning” document, the Partnership breaks out several skills that say are essential to successful students in the 21st century. These skills include: “Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). These, to me, sound like 20th century skills – these are the skills that we should be teaching students already (and, judging from my own educational experience, have been). In contrast to this, in New Culture of Learning, the authors offer a radically different view educational success, one that is based on getting our learners to adopt a flexible, playful, and evolutionary mindset (again, I literally just purchased the book, so I’m basing this judgment on Andrea’s presentation and the product description on Amazon).

I think the crux of my argument here is: the problem with having too fixed of a mindset is that you’re always behind. Just like the Partnership is emphasizing skills that we should have already been teaching our students, libraries who have a fixed mindset are just now hopping on the social media bandwagon because it will “help them connect with patrons.” If we can cultivate in ourselves and in our learners the type of adaptable mindset that JSB and Thomas advocate for, we will be able to move and respond to the world as quickly as it evolves now.


About rclement643

I am currently a graduate student at University of Michigan's School of Information. This blog is being kept as a place for reflections on the readings for the class
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2 Responses to Is flexibility the ultimate “21st century skill”?

  1. ryabbc says:

    “the problem with having too fixed of a mindset is that you’re always behind.”
    I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fixed and flexible ideas over the last week+, and I think that there’s some truth there. However, I also feel like there has to be a flipside — a way in which flexibility and one’s ability to “pivot” might not always be an asset. Is there such a thing as being too flexible? Are those with an overly flexible mindset more likely to get distracted by the new and shiny, trying to explore multiple possibilities at once and therefore either getting distracted or happening down the *wrong* rabbit hole? I’m not sure.

  2. northernwood says:

    When your topic is “Is flexibility the ultimate “21st century skill”?”, I think you are actually talking about two things — a flexible mindset and a flexible skill set. Can librarians in the 21st century acquire a flexible skill set but still embrace the old values and principles? During a time of changes and uncertainty, it feels comforting to have something to go back to.

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