With the arrival of digital electronic computers and the knowledge age late in the 20th century, the stability and predictability of necessary literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge evaporated. These technologies evolve much more rapidly than other information technologies, and this necessitates information skills to be updated constantly and for new skills to be learned with equal rapidity. Concurrent with the introduction of digital information technologies into society was the beginnings of cognitive science, the multidisciplinary science that has focused new interest and new tools to elucidate the details of human learning. Also concurrent was the recognition by educational theorists that classrooms are complex settings and educators have a responsibility to adopt a Naturalistic stance towards the wicked problem of designing curriculum and instruction. All of these factors are contributing to an emerging definition of the learners dimension for 21st century education.
Whereas curriculum and instruction for industrial age and information age schools perceived students to be passive recipients of knowledge,today’s educators recognize the importance of students’ experiences and expectations as factors affecting how they learn. Our students enter school with very diverse backgrounds and social expectations that arise from their cultural backgrounds, and global mobility is increasing the cultural diversity of many communities. Students also enter classrooms having experiences within the ICT-rich sociocultural context that influence how they perceive and process information and how they interact with others. This contributes to the growing recognition that the learners in classrooms in the 21st century are not the same learners that were in the 20th century classrooms. Ideal realizations of this dimension in classrooms will recognize and leverage these aspects of young people as communicators and learners.