What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, Vol. 29, Iss. 4, (2013), p. 127-140.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper offers a critical review of the literature on 21st century knowledge frameworks, with a particular focus on what this means for teachers and teacher educators.

The article identifies common themes and knowledge domains in 15 reports, books, and articles that describe the kinds of knowledge that researchers state are integral and important for success in the 21st century.


The review of 15 of the most significant 21st century knowledge frameworks has led to new conclusions and a new categorization of three overarching categories with three corresponding subcategories.
Each of these major categories can be seen as what we need to know, how we act on that knowledge, and the values we bring to our knowledge and action.
The authors argue that seemingly disparate frameworks converge on three types of knowledge, as necessary for the 21st century: foundational, meta, and humanistic.
They argue that the synthesis of these different frameworks suggests that nothing has changed, that this tripartite division between what we know, how we act on that knowledge, and what we value has always been important.

Changes to Foundational Knowledge
Technology in the foundational realm asserts itself as something “to know.”
Information literacy, while not unique to the 21st century, is uniquely pressing in the 21st century.
The introduction of digital technologies has changed the methods and techniques of acquiring, representing, and manipulating knowledge in almost all disciplines, from mathematics to music, astronomy, and archeology.
Thus, cross-disciplinary knowledge and the ability to synthesize information are ultimately different in the 21st century than in the past, and an ever-expanding amount of information necessitates the ability to synthesize information and derive meaning.

Changes to Meta Knowledge
Technology in the meta realm asserts itself as knowledge “to act” with foundational knowledge and technology.
This includes the ability not only to use technology in basic, predetermined (by the designer) ways, but to reuse and repurpose technology to meet specific educational needs and teaching/learning goals.
The need to effectively communicate and collaborate is not novel, but ease of access has made large-scale communication and collaboration across thousands of miles commonplace. With increased globalization and affordances of new technology, individuals from diverse cultures are exposed to one another on an unprecedented level, and successful collaboration is of the 21st century; however, the social, economic, and informational impact of the Internet and digital media is unprecedented.

Changes to Humanistic Knowledge
Technology in the humanistic realm asserts itself as something to value both in others and in the possibilities of technology.
Humanistic knowledge has nonetheless been modified by technology in the 21st century in that the ability to regulate one’s efforts has become a multifaceted effort that necessitates organization of one’s demands in different realms of life )personal, professional) to successful ends.
The issue of humanistic knowledge becomes even more critical in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, where different cultures have to meet and interact (Jerald, 2009).
In contexts like this, developing a value system that respects differences and yet maintains a core of empathy and understanding becomes critically important.

Implications for Teachers and Teacher Educators

This framework provides some specific recommendations for teachers and teacher educators. In brief, we point to three key suggestions.
First, disciplinary knowledge and domain knowledge are as important as ever and will continue to be so well into the foreseeable future.
Educational systems remain fundamentally based on disciplinary knowledge and, as such, require teachers to be adequately trained and proficient in the disciplines.
The need for students to develop deep disciplinary knowledge has always been important; what has changed is access to disciplinary knowledge and authentic disciplinary inquiry made available through technology and subsequently experts and resources.
Second, knowing the technology is important, but knowing when and why to use it is more important.
This is closely related to the TPACK framework and knowledge that teachers must possess to teach effectively with technology )Mishra & Koehler, 2006).
Third, technological advances of the 21st century have brought us closer together and at the same time further apart.
As a result of the increased opportunity for interaction across countries and around the world, teachers need to know how to foster cultural competence, emotional awareness, and leadership skills to facilitate not just interactions, but meaningful interactions and relationships.


The authors argue that the rapid changes we see in the world around us brought about by the forces of globalization and technological and cultural change often make it difficult to gauge what exactly it is that our students need to be learning in schools and how teachers are to be trained in order to prepare our students for the future.
This analysis suggests that, though the 21st century is different from previous times, it does not mean that our core roles (to know, to act, and to value) have changed.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108(6),1017–1054.

Updated: Jul. 22, 2015