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21 Steps to 21st Century Learning


The 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning framework is a guide for schools and school districts as they envision, plan, implement, evaluate and expand 1:1 learning in their schools.

It has been more than two decades since the first 1:1 initiative began. In that time, thousands of schools and millions of students have been involved in 1:1 pilots or full-scale implementations. Much has been written about the benefits of 1:1 and its potential to create a revolution in when, where, what, and how students learn. But to create a true learning revolution we must do more than just provide all students with their own personal computers. We must explore ways in which 1:1 makes it possible to profoundly impact the learning opportunities for young people.

A 1:1 initiative can help lay the foundation on which new learning dynamics can be built. It can create a platform for reform, for re-imagining what school could be, and for building a more authentic, relevant and worthwhile learning environment for young people in the 21st Century. But to make this revolution in learning succeed, there are some essentials that must be followed.

Looking back over the last few decades, there have been many pockets of exceptional work, usually driven by teachers who have seized upon the opportunities provided by the "instrument whose music is ideas." Along with these successes, there have been many initiatives that suffered from missteps and mistakes. There is much to learn from these successes and even more from the failures.

In analyzing the experiences of these 1:1 initiatives, it became clear that the most successful initiatives all have one main characteristic in common: they are first and foremost concerned with learning, not laptops. This is the Essential First Condition and if it is not at the heart of your initiative, success is unlikely.

Next, it became apparent that these successful initiatives followed a very similar series of steps and practices, whereas those that reported the most problems did not. These key steps and practices form the core of the 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning.

Choosing to work with this framework is an important first step that will help you address both the broader strategic issues that are critical to your initiative's success and the fundamental tasks that underpin your work.


The 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning are divided into two main phases. The first phase consists of the three essential elements, the second focuses on implementation. Do not start Phase 2 until you have considered all the steps in Phase 1. Be sure to check out the online videos that introduce several of our steps below!

Essential Element 1: Understand the Compelling Case for Change (Steps 1-4)

It is in this phase that you clearly define the vision you have for your 1:1 initiative and the intermediary goals that will help you gauge your progress as you move forward. Vision and goal setting is best done after first researching not only other 1:1 initiatives, but global and economic trends and the reality of the technology rich world in which today's students live.

Step 1: Understand the context (video)
Step 2: Redefine your vision (video)
Step 3: Clarify goals, expectations, and policy priorities (video)
Step 4: Evaluate continuously

Effective evaluation of your initiative is the backbone of its success. Review and evaluation are essential and, although listed as Step 4, they are ongoing processes that should be conducted at regular intervals as your initiative matures.

Essential Element 2: Teaching and Learning for Contemporary Learners (Steps 5-7)

If we accept the scale of change in the world around us, we must, by implication, accept the urgent need to rethink, re-imagine, re-design the very nature of teaching and learning in a technology-rich world. During this phase, look at every aspect of the learning environment to see how best to support your vision of learning. You must also be willing to examine all aspects of your teaching practice to best understand the new roles that new learning environments require.

Step 5: Explore contemporary learning (video)
Step 6: Embrace new roles for 21st century educators (video)
Step 7: Create a 21st century learning environment

Essential Element 3: Cultures of Change (Steps 8-11)

Once you understand the current context and have defined a clearly articulated vision, it is now the responsibility of school leaders to make it happen. This is the time to move from vision to reality by developing and initiating strategies to create a sustainable initiative that all stakeholders understand and support and in which educators at all levels are not only eager to participate but have the support they need to help achieve the initiative goals.

Step 8: Build a change culture (video)
Step 9: Implement professional learning strategies (video)
Step 10: Ensure equity and sustainability: Funding strategies
Step 11: Build understanding: Communication strategies

Part 2: Implementation (Steps 12-21)

Once Phases 1 - 3 have been carefully considered and put into effect, you are ready to begin the more practical steps of implementation. These include assessing what you have, what you need, and what you should select in terms of infrastructure, hardware, and software to help achieve your goals. Various other preparatory tasks at this time emphasize support, communication, and policy development. This phase culminates in the distribution of laptops and the start of laptop learning.

Step 12: Conduct a readiness assessment
Step 13: Consider implementation options and project plan
Step 14: Select devices, applications, apps, and core tools
Step 15: Plan your infrastructure for scale (video)
Step 16: Prepare the budget
Step 17: Establish critical partnerships
Step 18: Manage support services (video)
Step 19: Clarify essential policies for effective use
Step 20: Liaise with parents and community
Step 21: Deploy!

By starting with these 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning, you are getting off to an excellent start, learning and benefitting from the experiences of those who have gone before you.

Now is the time to tap the potential of the change 1:1 makes possible and make it a true educational revolution. With the help of the 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning framework, let us build a coherent foundation from which all students will ultimately benefit, which will transform learning and, ultimately, through these new opportunities, our society.


AALF is happy to announce the release of #AnytimeAnywhereLearners: A Blueprint for Transforming Where, When, and How Young People Learn. Based on the 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning, this essential guide provides not only a solid framework, but also the questions that school leaders need to ask when designing or revitalizing their 1:1 initiative. For more information, check out AnytimeAnywhereLearners.com.

21 Steps to 21st Century Learning is a registered trademark of the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation.