Has 21st Century revolutionised reading and writing? Part 2

This is the 2nd part to my previous post, which you can read here.

We are living in an extremely rapidly changing world due to globalisation, fast growth in areas of economy, technology and mobility. A great shift from an industrial world to knowledge societies places a new need for schooling and teacher education. Today we have professions that didn’t even exist ten years ago, and children beginning their school this year will graduate years later into professions we do not know of yet. According to some researchers, the importance of skilled labour does not vanish, although some of these occupations have disappeared on the information age. At the same time, a new set of professions, which depend on information skills, such as problem-solving skills and ICT emerge. [1]
Perhaps you have heard of the concept Digital Natives. Digital Natives are sometimes referred to as those young people, who were born on the information age, who can hardly remember the time before smart phones or internet. They seem to use technology and mobile devices with ease, even those little ones who can’t properly talk yet, have an ability to search for their favourite videos from YouTube. They also seem to multi-task, working on several tasks at the same time. [2]

However, even if their technology use is seemingly effortless, does it mean that they really know what to do with all the information they see, can evaluate it critically, and know how to use internet safely, following ethical and legal guidelines? According to many researchers the answer is no, and some suggest that digital natives are, in fact, a myth, that we are totally overestimating their abilities [3]. For instance, Kirschner and De Bruyckere propose that this myth can be very harmful for education, if policies and curriculums are designed to suit the so called digital natives. This could be very problematic, if the concept simply isn’t real, if it is based on an assumption of the skills these young people may possess, rather than actual scientific knowledge of their true know-how. Sure, they might know how to  use different platforms and apps, but can they actually do anything useful regarding learning, the researchers ask? Kirschner and De Bruyckere suggest that teaching the necessary skills is crucial, not assuming children have them. [3]

Kirschner and De Bruyckere state also, that often digital natives are in addition considered to be “multi-taskers”, but in fact, according to several researchers, are not multitasking, just switching rapidly from one task to another. [3] Has that ever happened to you? I often find myself reading two articles, one at my laptop and one from my mobile device, and ooops, now someone sent me a message through Facebook, which is also open. The question is, do I really focus on any of these tasks? Can I tell you later my opinion about these articles? Can I even explain to you their main concepts? Perhaps most importantly, can I really be present to my friend when I feel a rush to read this article while eying on what is going on the news today?


A Digital Native?
Photograph copyright by Paula Virmasalo


According to a research conducted with high-school students by Sana, Weston and Xepeda students’ multitasking on a laptop during a class might not only hinder the learning of the particular student, but also distract other students in their immediate surrounding. [4] This is a complex issue. Students might use the technology “the right way”, to support their learning process (for instance, looking for more information about the topic learned) or they might get distracted with something that has absolutely nothing to do with the content. On the other hand, shouldn’t it be also important to learn to regulate one’s behaviour with technology, devices and social media, to understand when it is time for learning and when for socializing, entertainment etc.? [3]

As I wrote in my previous post, the 21st century literacies bring along new possibilities, responsibilities for all of us. When it comes to children and education, it is extremely important to educate them and help them understand the new dimensions of communication, which are putting us on a new situation, as a picture or a quickly made comment can live forever in cyber space. I believe that technology and new literacies can provide amazing possibilities for the future of education and schooling, but it is good to recognise the risks and determine the need for education.

One of the most crucial needs for education are the critical thinking skills, which should be the core of all education, and practicing of them could start from a very early age. However, that is a topic for another blog post, so I won’t go further than mentioning it. Obviously, when thinking about education policies and curriculums for reading and writing, we should also consider much further than just innovative platforms and technologies, we should consider pedagogical practices and the value they may bring along in the big picture of the change. As Lewis [5] points out, teacher training is often focused in the use of tools such as technology, but may fail on the education of new mindsets, forms of communication and identities that come within the new literacies.

Lewis [5, p.236] asks an important question for all of us educators: Do “we want to make school literacy more engaging for students and more meaningful to their present and future lives in a digitally mediated world. If so, then we need to understand the shifts in practices and epistemologies (conceptions of knowledge) that have taken place and consider how these shifts should inform our teaching of reading and writing.”

It is vital to learn about the innovative ways of reading and writing (as well as it is about the traditional ones). We must consider ways we as parents, teachers and educators can help children become informed, critically and ethically aware, responsible, yet creative and courageous writers and readers of the future. Children of today are already building our digital society. We can support, helping them become not only consumers but also producers of content, participating actively on building a sustainable and fair future for everyone.

1. Griffin, P., Care, E. & McGaw, B. (2012). The changing role of education and schools. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 1-16 ). Springer Netherlands

2. Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

3. Kirschner, P. A., & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 135-142.

4. Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 62, 24-31.

5. Lewis, C. (2007). New literacies. A new literacies sampler, 229-237.

Has 21st Century revolutionised reading and writing?

We live in a rapidly changing world, where constant progress in economics, science, technology and mobility to mention a few with their new innovations set a speedy pace for development. A major aspect of the change is that many of us live in a digital world. All of this brings along innovative ways of working, being and living for everyone. I come from a country of Nokia, and back in the end of 90’s, when I was in high school, some of us already had those old and reliable Nokia phones. You know, the ones you could accidentally drop in a sink and still make a call after drying them. My classmates’ father worked at Nokia, and one day these twin sisters came to school with new sort of mobile phones: they didn’t have an antenna. I can still remember vividly how amazed we all were of this new kind of phone we had used to see with an antenna!

Those days, none of us thought that in less than a decade, we would carry our whole life in our pockets and handbags, taking and sending pictures, videos and instant messages just in seconds to the other side of the world. (Well, if the internet connection works). We can do bank transactions, browse casually the internet, e-mail and news whenever we have a moment off, like when waiting for a friend at a café or sitting on a bus on the way to work. In fact, this has become everyday life for many people. Not to mention connecting with our long-lost friends and communicating with people from diverse cultures we have never seen in real life, through apps like Facebook or Twitter. We can also enjoy blogs or video blogs like this, ordinary people’s thoughts about life, or on the other hand, following every single step of our favourite celebrities, as if we were a part of their life! A mobile phone, just like other mobile devices, has and will continue to exceed the traditional concept of phone.

Maybe you are one of those fortunate people to have beautiful, handwritten letters or postcards from decades back, treasured in your family, written by your relatives, parents or grandparents to each other in their youth. Well, times certainly have changed, as the future grandchildren may view short video clips taken by their grandparents, stored in the cloud.

Internet and its different forms, (did you know about the existence of the Dark Web?), social media, modern technology, devices, apps and media we use are constantly changing the way we read and write.  There are numerous (and more are invented as I am writing this), programmes and apps that facilitate fast, effective and affordable or even free communication. This new form of digitalisation constantly alters the ways of communication and even the language we use. Can you keep up with the latest acronyms from internet slang that your teenagers use? Traditionally we have been mostly consumers of media. Today anyone of us can be both a consumer and a producer of facts or fiction. There is information and disinformation, as everyone can make a news site or present their mere opinions as true facts. Can you tell a difference? Are you sure?  The content has also changed: what used to be mostly either text and/or images or video, is now multimodal: text which includes pictures, emojis, videos, audio, hyperlinks leading to other webpages, as well as loads of other features.

Media and Advertising have changed radically too, since today many service providers provide us with personalised stories and images that we are interested in, which is why it is also easy to live in a certain bubble. The service-providers base their decisions on the way we consume: which news and articles we click open, which videos we watch and what sort of services or items we prefer as consumers. Facebook is one good example of a service provider like this. Has it ever happened to you, that you just discussed with your friend about an item, whether in a private message or comment and boom, few moments later it is a suggested ad in your news feed? Advertisements are individuated according to our personal preferences, and often so perfectly masked, that it takes a careful eye to recognize that it is an ad, not an informative article.

Another illusion easily created by social media that I have often been thinking, (especially when living on the other side of the world from most of my family and many friends,) is the illusion of being in touch. For instance, if I follow Maria in Facebook, like her stories and comment them occasionally, as she does to me, does it mean that we actually know about each other’s life?  I personally think not necessarily, which is why we both also try to call each other regularly, or send personal, private messages, audio or text.

Blog post

Many researchers talk about 21st century literacies, “new writing” or digital & information literacies to illustrate how reading and writing has changed and keeps on changing in the 21st century. These form a part of the so called 21st century skills or competencies, a topic rather widely discussed in the field of education these days. [1,2 & 3]. In the future, I will write more about the 21st Century skills as it is a part of my personal learning path.  It is important to notice, that many of these 21st century competencies are not exactly new. In fact, skills such as collaboration or critical thinking skills have for long been crucial for successful citizenship. However, it can be argued, that these skills are newly important, as their dimensions and emphasis have grown significantly due to this major and rapid global change.  [1,2] In fact, some researchers [2] suggest that “nothing has changed, and everything has changed”.

In the old days, there might have been hidden geniuses, people who would create for their own joy and the world possibly never discovered their talent. Nowadays there are ordinary people like me, not necessarily particularly skilful, but willing for one or another reason to express themselves writing publicly. Today it is easy for anyone to let out their creativity in many forms using for instance Instagram (for pictures), Twitter (for witty remarks of the world), blogs, vlogs (video blogs) or other social media platforms for showcasing their innovations in kitchen, fashion, garage or anything one can imagine. The lady from your next door neighbour, who looks like any of us, the one you see every day on the way to work, could have thousands of followers in Instagram or on her blog, who are much more familiar with her life than you ever imagined. Everything is available for us with just a few clicks or wipes, and instantly we can share our thoughts with the entire world.

However, 21st literacies bring along new possibilities, responsibilities and threats, whether we are talking about technology or new ways of working and social interaction. Many of us have been under some sort of a cyber-attack, whether it has been a poorly written spam in our e-mail, or maybe a more personal kind, someone responding to your social media update with vicious remarks of your life or opinions. Basically, anyone who expresses themselves publicly, is vulnerable for opinions and attention from outside, whether it is good or bad. Similarly, all of us should have a responsibility to behave within a certain framework of ethical manners and practices. There is knowledge, skills and, very importantly, values and responsibilities we must learn in order to handle this turbulent change in our living rooms and other immediate surroundings. This could be especially demanding for children and youth, who are not necessarily mature enough, not yet capable to understand the consequences of a photo or a post that stays in the  internet forever and can be shared and screenshot repeatedly. Therefore, all of this indicates towards a major change in the education of children and youth, at schools and at homes.

There are a few special characteristics for 21st century literacies in comparison to traditional literacies. They are occasionally defined through the digital, participatory, collaborative and distributed approaches [3]. If you consider this blog post you are reading, you may find a few these aspects here: this is in a digital form, and even though I am the author, you can participate in the discussion publicly by commenting this post for me and other readers in the comments-section, as well as distribute it widely in just seconds over the internet through your social media channels, sharing you view about it. In addition, 21st century literacies are often defined by abilities such as using technology as an effective tool to access and find information, and analyse and evaluate the information critically. Along with the technology related aspect comes an aspect related to values and attitudes: understanding the ethical and legal issues related to the use of information and communication technology as well as skills to participate and create content in an ethical, respectful manner. [4 & 5]

If you are interested in this topic, click follow, as in my next post my aim is to write more about the meaning of this for schools and educators. I would also love to hear your opinion about this topic, please feel free to comment on the comment box below.

See the part 2 for this post here.



  1. Voogt, J., Erstad, O., Dede, C., & Mishra, P. (2013). Challenges to learning and schooling in the digital networked world of the 21st century. Journal of computer assisted learning, 29(5), 403-413.
  2. Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., & Terry, L. (2013). What knowledge is of most worth: Teacher knowledge for 21st century learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29(4), 127-140.
  3. Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling “the new” in new literacies. A new literacies sampler, 29, 1-24.
  4. Dede, C. (2010). Comparing frameworks for 21st century skills. 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn, 20, 51-76.
  5. Binkley, M., Erstad, O., Herman, J., Raizen, S., Ripley, M., Miller-Ricci, M., & Rumble, M. (2012). Defining twenty-first century skills. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 17-66). Springer Netherlands.