Floundering or Flourishing: How can Educators at an FE College Prepare Learners More Effectively for 21st Century Learning?

Opening summary 

As part of the Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) programme, participants are required to undertake a quality improvement project. 

SET’s Professional Status team reviewed all 60+ Quality Improvement Projects submitted as part of the October 2020 ATS cohort shortlisting the top 12 using a scoring matrix, including the below from Gavin Knox, Teacher Educator and Learning Coach at Lincoln College. 

This editorial provides an overview of Gavin’s improvement project which focused on how to develop learners’ 21st century learning skills through the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) tutorial model.    


Research context 

The move of educational delivery away from face-to-face to online platforms during Covid-19 has developed a space for educators around the world to find new forms of learning. Whilst some staff and students have flourished, others have floundered with digital capabilities and confidence (Jisc, 2020).  

In attempting to address a gap in learners’ skills, knowledge and behaviours, I collaborated with a small team of teachers to create four lessons that focused on developing key 21st century learning skills – Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking, also known as the 4Cs (Joynes, 2019) – which would be delivered by teachers involved in teaching Continuous Professional Development (CPD).  

It was anticipated that through engagement in the project, CPD teachers would develop their confidence in developing their own digital pedagogical skills. Around 80 teachers deliver the CPD curriculum at the college. There is a framework for the curriculum and most teachers deliver very similar topics. Typically, most teachers plan these topics in isolation. Working collaboratively would reduce planning time, enable the sharing of ideas and create a better learner experience. 


Aims and objectives 

The project aimed to improve the learner experience in CPD lessons by designing a series of lessons that supports learning to learn in the 21st century, with the following objectives: 

  • To examine how the CPD curriculum can embed key 21st century learning skills 
  • To develop collaborative teacher relationships to design and deliver lessons that promote learning to learn skills.   



Research questions: 

Q1: How does learning to learn impact on learning in CPD lessons? 

Q2: To what extent can learning to learn develop teachers’ collaboration?   

Q3: To what extent can 21st century learning skills lead to better outcomes for learners?  


The study also looked at two sub questions:  

  • What are teachers’ perceptions and experiences of learning assessment and teaching in an online space?  
  • How has the creation of the 4Cs impacted on learners learning to learn skills and confidence in an online space?  

The research used a qualitative approach with a phenomenological methodology. A mixed method approach was used to collect the data: 

  • Six purposely sampled semi-structured 1:1 teacher interviews  
  • Focus groups of 12 Progress Coaches. 

This research was conducted in accordance with the BERA 2018 guidelines and GDPR.  


Project findings and recommendations 



The data analysis suggests some teachers have found the move to teaching online difficult. Consistent with Moravec (2013), one teacher felt they had not effectively adapted lessons to an online space and had tried to recreate classroom lessons. Some teachers suggested that they had not been given enough ‘training’ to teach online. This way of teaching and learning is a huge cultural shift. This shift will take time.  

The data analysis identifies the creation and delivery of the 4Cs lessons have started to have a positive impact on learners. Some teachers commented that the structure of the 4Cs had allowed them to think more creatively about the delivery of online lessons. This has enabled learners to become more active in lessons. Teachers reported that some learners were responding more positively to questions and more learners turning cameras on. The links the lessons make to employability skills have helped some learners to recognise that learning in this way is developing vital employability skills for future careers.  

The most significant impact of the project has been on staff. The creation of the 4Cs lessons, drop-in support and the Microsoft Teams Community of Practice has enabled all of the CPD teachers to connect and collaborate. The MS Teams group gave a space for teachers to share ideas about how they have adapted the 4Cs lessons. This has not happened before with this group of teachers. The impact of this collaboration has resulted in a more positive learning experience for learners as teachers have been learning with and from one another. It is important that teachers continue to collaborate and feel empowered to change curriculums and adapt lessons that are more conducive to the learning of their own groups.  



The impact of this project has not gone unnoticed by senior management as the college. This has resulted in a complete rethink about the CPD curriculum. From September 2021, this curriculum will be built around the 4Cs. The wider college is now being encouraged to think more creatively about their curriculums and how they can embed key 21st century learning skills. Furthermore, this has led to me create a college-wide pre-induction learning package known as ‘Ready Set Learn’. 

Screenshot of Ready, Set, Learn platform

Professional reading 

Apple, M. and Jungck, S. (1992). ‘You don’t have to be a teacher to teach this unit.’ In Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (editors). Understanding teacher development. New York: Teachers College Press. 20-42. 

Department for Education (DfE, 2021) [withdrawn 2022]. Remote education good practice. London: DfE.  

Facer, K., 2018. ‘Governing education through anticipation… or, how to avoid being a useful idiot when talking about educational futures.’ In Grosvenor, I. and Rasmussen, L. (editors) Governing Education through Design. Oxon: Routledge. 

Facer, K. and Selwyn, N. (2021). Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism. Meeting paper for Futures of Education initiative.  UNESCO. 

Boud, D. and Walker, D. (2003). ‘Barriers to reflection on experience.’ In Downie, C. M. and Basford, P. (editors) Mentoring in practice. University of Greenwich Press. 261-273. 

Fullan, M., Quinn, J., Drummy, M., Gardner, M. (2020). Education Reimagined; The Future of Learning. A collaborative position paper between NewPedagogies for Deep Learning and Microsoft Education. [Online] Available at: http://aka.ms/HybridLearningPaper  

Gallagher, M. (2019). ‘Moving beyond microwork: Rebundling digital education and reterritorialising digital labour.’ In Education and Technological Unemployment. Singapore: Springer. 279-296. 

Hrabowski, F. (2012). ‘Leading a culture of change and innovation.’ In Leader To Leader, 2013(67), 49-55. [Online] Available at: doi: 10.1002/ltl.20062 

Hase, S. and Kenyon, C. (editors), 2013. Self-determined learning: heutagogy in action. London: Bloomsbury. 

Joynes, C., Rossignoli, S. and Fenyiwa Amonoo-Kuofi, E. (2019). 21st Century Skills: Evidence of issues in definition, demand and delivery for development contexts. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. 

Lemov, D. (2020). Teaching in the online classroom. Hoboken: Jossey-Bass. 

Moravec, J. (2013). Knowmad Society. [Online] Available at: https://www.educationfutures.com/publications/knowmad-society. Minneapolis, USA: Education Futures LLC.