Alternatives to the Standard Model of Education

This post continues the theme begun in The (Overturned) Model of Standard Education

Many educational scholars and practitioners have recognized the inadequacy of the Standard Model in recent decades and they have proposed alternative models of education. The (incomplete) list of alternatives includes authentic learning (Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2014), natural learning (Caine & Caine, 2011), project-based learning (Krajcik & Shin, 2014), problem-based learning (Lu, Bridges, & Hmelo-Silver, 2014), complex learning (Kirschner, Jeroen, & van Merrienboer, 2008), learner-centered instruction (Stefaniak, 2015), situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and cognitive apprenticeships (Dennen & Burner, 2008). While advocates for these different methods vary in the specifics of how they would implement schooling, there are several assumptions about teaching, learning, and testing that they share and that differentiate these approaches from the Standard Model of schooling:

  • The curriculum is assumed to be more dynamic and vastly greater than can be articulated in standards and “covered” by lectures and similar instruction, so these methods tend to include an increased role for activities in which students learn how to learn. It is reasoned that students who gain experience learning with independence are better prepared for rapidly changing and unpredictable knowledge and situations that characterize New (ICT) organizations and digital cultures.
  • Because the curriculum will vary and because students curriculum will, in part, be self-defined, teachers cannot accurately predict students’ paths through the curriculum. Further, new discoveries are likely to invalidate some of the extant curriculum before it can be completed. For these reasons, what students learn may vary.
  • In these models, learning is understood to be a social activity as much as it is a cognitive activity. Meaningful social engagement between students and teachers and other experts and among students are purposefully designed into the learning activities.
  • How learning is demonstrated varies. In these models, learning is best demonstrated through performance on authentic projects and performances, while schools based in the Standard Model tend to rely on test scores as the primary measure of learning.
  • Finally, metacognition—knowing how and what one knows—is a goal of learning in the alternatives to the Standard Model.

The boundaries between schooling when the Standard Model dominated and 21st century schools are not as clear as I have presented. Activities, lessons, courses, and curriculum frameworks that promote 21st century skills have been available for decades (Dede, 2010). Student-based learning, constructivist methods, and other alternatives to the Standard Model of teaching have been described and promoted by scholars and practitioners, but those methods have largely been marginalized and have not been the focus of the wide-scale efforts to define educational policy. It is anticipated that 21st century pedagogies will replace the Standard Model, and the Standard Model will become the marginalized pedagogy.

Daniel Pink (2006) can be credited with popularizing the term “necessary, but not sufficient” to describe the linear skills that are well-developed through the Standard Model, and scholars have continued to elucidate many trends, especially economic trends, that necessitate revised curriculum. The nature of the workers needed in institutions that reflect the ICT (New) organization, illustrate these changes. Johannessen (2008) concluded,

the workforce will shift away from employees who have traditional, practical training backgrounds and towards an ever-increasing number of employees who have had a higher education and are theoretically well equipped. Such workers will be capable of working in a problem definition and problem-oriented manner and possess skills for both analysis and synthesis (p. 407).


Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (2011). Natural learning for a connected world: Education, technology, and the human brain. New York: Teachers College.

Dennen, V. P., & Burner, K. J. (2008). The cognitive apprenticeship model in educational practice. In J. M. Spector (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (3rd edition) (pp. 425-439). New York: Springer.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T., & Oliver, R. (2014). Authentic learning environments. In J. M. Spetor (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (4th edition) (pp. 401-412). New York: Springer.

Krajcik, J., & Shin, N. (2014) Project-based learning. In R. K. Sawyer, (Ed.). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd edition) (pp. 298-318). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lu, J., Brides, S., & Hmelo-Silver, C. (2014) Problem-based learning. In R. K. Sawyer, (Ed.). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd edition) (pp. 319-338). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kirschner, P., Jeroen, G., & van Merrienboer, J. (2008). Ten steps to complex learning: A new approach to instruction and instructional design. In T. Good (Ed), 21st Century education: A Reference Handbook 21st century education: A reference handbook (p. I-244-I-253). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dede, C. (2010). Comparing frameworks for 21st century skills. In J. Bellanca, & R. Brandt (Eds.). 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. 51-76). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Pink, D. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.

Stefaniak, J. (2015). Promoting learner-centered instruction through the design of contextually relevant experiences. In B. Hokanson, G. Clinton, & M. W. Tracey (Eds.), The design of learning experience (pp. 49–62). Cham: Springer International Publishing.