21st Century Education glossary: “While the term is widely used in education, it is not always defined consistently, which can lead to confusion and divergent interpretations. In addition, a number of related terms—including applied skills, cross-curricular skills, cross-disciplinary skills, interdisciplinary skills,transferable skills, transversal skills, noncognitive skills, and soft skills, among others.”

21st Century classrooms are digitized. Instruction and assessment are delivered by electronic platforms. Students will spend an increasing amount of hours working at computers and less time with peers and teachers in non computer based settings. The goals for learning are developed and delivered by private companies at the behest of global corporations looking to hone children to meet their own market driven needs. 21st Century learning morphs “competency-based education” into modular learning which will be delivered via privately managed online education companies who “reward” children with “badges”.


  1. Increased risks of obesity with increased seat time.
  2. Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  3. Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

4. Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.

5. Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

According to New York Times report: “Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.”

6. Data privacy = online platforms delivered to third party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. See Knewton “data palooza” video for a frightening scenario.

7. Increases ADHD-like symptoms. New York Times reports: “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.”

8. Creates an adrenaline-driven mentality to learning (like an addiction).  Psychology Today reporter states, “As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties..”

Comment from an NPR post “A lot of school systems are rushing to put iPads into the hands of students individually, and I don’t think they’ve thought about the [social] cost,” she explains. “This study should be, and we want it to be, a wake-up call to schools. They have to make sure their students are getting enough face-to-face social interaction. That might mean reducing screen time.”



Read what others have to say about digitized learning and competency-based education here:

Comments from Sheila Ressenger on Competency Based Education-

“My take is that the PR for so-called proficiency based, personalized learning is riddled with code words that translate into outsourcing education to ed-tech vendors and “community partners,” marginalizing classroom teachers, holding students accountable to pre-determined, inappropriate standards (Common Core or Core-like), not allowing them to progress until they have achieved “mastery” of these inappropriate standards, feeding them game-like academic programs that foster zombie cognitive processing rather than real learning, and using extrinsic motivation like rewards and badges, all the while scooping up reams of sensitive data that will go who knows where and be used for who knows what.”


Posted comment by Ronee Groff on  Global Nightmare

In 1991 Douglas D. Noble published The Regime of Technology in Education where we were then and where we were going and he was screaming off the pages.

“Above all, high-tech corporate interest in education reform expects a school system that will utilize sophisticated performance measures and standards to sort students and to provide a reliable supply of such adaptable, flexible, loyal, mindful, expendable, “trainable” workers for the 21st Century. This, at bottom, underlies the corporate drive to retool human capital. :We in the personal computer industry,” notes Apple CEO John Sculley, also Chair of the National Center on Education and the Economy “are really in the behavior-changing industry. We have the challenge to create the tools that fundamentally are going to change the way people learn, the way they think, the way they communicate, the way they work!” such is the scope the hubris of the regime of technology in education, a legacy of military fantasy conjoined with the unbridled self-interest of corporate power.”

Add to the statement by Sir Michael Barber of Pearson that ‘-everything can be measured and therefore controlled.’ You have the makings of a coalition of power mongering, creed obsessed, and the ‘others’ who would come to survive and grow the octopus of what will be a one world initiative beyond the yearning for freedom and creative uniqueness inherent in each of us. We are racing to space for the few and leaving behind the great majority.

Personal commentary from Alison McDowell

“CBE has ties to higher ed and Community Colleges. Lumina and Nellie Mae who are funding lots of these initiatives are linked with student loans and finance. My sense is they are creating some mass market mid-range technical/industry-linked new higher ed model that relies largely on online learning and competencies. It would maybe bridge that gap between an associates degree and a 4-year liberal arts degree.  As those 4 year degrees become out of reach of most Americans, and the feds underwrite their workforce development plans for “free” community college, these new CBE folks will swoop in to “train” these associates for their jobs. And if you think about it, 20 years ago when companies invested in human resources, they would have done that training of new staff on the job. You hire someone who knows how to think and train them because you want them to stay for the long term.  The new model is to require up front certifications to even apply for jobs (because they are being screened by algorithms), so the people have to pay and finance some type of education to even have a shot at getting the “digital badge” they need in their online portfolio to get through the screeners. That means people are going to have to take on more debt, but the badges-based CBE model isn’t really education that is open and transferable, it is industry specific. It puts all the power in the hands of industry.”



Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.


  1. Thank you, Morna! It is urgently important to bring all of these concerns to the attention of the public. To add to the potential negative effects of continuous digital “learning”/monitoring/assessing/data collection and mining is the evidence that so much exposure to wifi radiation in children carries great health risks. See this for starters: http://safetechforschoolsmaryland.blogspot.com/2015/10/ten-facts-about-what-world-health.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SafeTechForSchoolsMaryland+%28Safe+Tech+for+Schools+Maryland%29

  2. As long as the push for preparing for the computerized standardized tests continues, our children will be pushed to work on keyboards in front of screens (and to choose from multiple choice questions) even though it is completely developmentally inappropriate, etc.

  3. And there is more: Competency-based education (CBE) only allows students to move through pre-packaged programs at their own pace, programs that divide instruction into small, concrete modules that are limited to what can be easily tested.
    Not mentioned in the current discussions of CBE is the lack of research supporting it. A recent report from the National Governor’s Association, a report enthusiastic about CBE, includes this statement: “Although an emerging research base suggests that CBE is a promising model, it includes only a few rigorous evaluations and analyses of current and ongoing CBE pilots and similar programs.”

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