New Media And 21st Century Learning: The Imperatives For Sustainable Development

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Isaac Oluyi
Isaac Oluyi

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler (2021) in ‘Futuristic Quotes’. It is not sufficient to be a degree or diploma holder in this century; it is much more important to be learned to the extent of being able to think outside the box and be a problem solver. Education goes beyond certificate acquisition; it is life-long learning! Many mistake education for schooling. It is far from that! It is all round-development of an individual from birth to death. Education ceases only at the death of an individual. Learning therefore goes beyond the four walls of the classroom. It entails ability to learn beyond certification. It’s the ability to adapt and adopt new knowledge and methods to mitigate the problems that evolve in the ever dynamic 21st century!

The COVID-19 pandemic is not all about doom and gloom. It has indeed thrown up challenges that have opened up new opportunities. In all spheres of life, the dynamics have changed. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do things. It’s an era of the ‘new normal’! The new normal that has revolutionised our modus operandi in almost all areas of life. To stay afloat or relevant in this new era, the new methods or new ways of life occasioned by the new normal need to be embraced. This reinforces Alvin Toffler’s submission that a literate of this century must learn, unlearn and relearn. To this end, the current reality of our times calls for learning, not just cramming of facts within the four walls of the classroom!

‘Wall’ symbolises limitation. It suggests limited/restricted thinking. It’s a symbol of conditioning. The four walls of the classroom condition people to think in a certain way predicated on unchallenged standards. It’s all about conventions – this is how we have always been doing it and it must continue in that manner! Conventions do not encourage innovative thinking. Conventions lead to dogmas. To transcend the limitations of the four walls, proper learning must be encouraged. To do this, technology must be leveraged. Technology is an equaliser and it radicalises how things are done. Over the years, technology has defied myths and unscientific conventions! Happenings in recent past have actually shown how digital technology has helped man to keep learning, unlearning and relearning at the speed of light. The new media and/or social media have made learning commonplace for individuals who understand that knowledge is the currency of the 21st century.

What is new media? Cote (2021) defines it as any media – from newspaper articles and blogs to music and podcasts – that are delivered digitally from a website or email to mobile phones and streaming apps, any internet-related form of communication can be considered new media. He explains further that new media doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific mode of communication. Some types of new media, such as an online newspaper, are also “old media” in the form of a traditional printed newspaper. He said other new media are entirely new, such as podcast or smartphone app. Based on the submission of Cote, new media can be summed up to be any media delivered digitally. Media such as podcasts, streaming apps (Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, etc), website, email, mobile phones and so on fall within new media.

Going by the developments around us, it is apparently clear that traditional approaches to learning are gradually becoming a thing of the past. While we have die-hard traditionalists who still stick to the old ways of doing things, majority have since moved on, particularly with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on every facet of human existence. University dons who would otherwise use 19th century or 20th century notes or ideas to teach are compelled to learn new methods and ways of doing things. Zoom, Google classroom, etc are being adopted even by those who often pride themselves on the glory of the past. The glory of the past is a shame of the current reality of our times! He who will be relevant in the scheme of things must actually be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn.

21st century learning is beyond grades or certificates. It is about ability to couple knowledge with meaningful developments.  Any learning that will not lead to critical thinking and problem-solving is at best useless not only to the owner but to the society at large. For this reason, the traditional approach of memorisation of facts to determine who is good or bad has to stop. Learners in all areas – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – must be trained to be problem solvers who cannot only use the new media to acquire knowledge at the speed of light, but can also domesticate new media to solve problems. New media should not just be seen as means of entertainment, but effective tools of learning new skills, new methods and new applications.

Schools at all levels must know that they cannot continue to use analogue methods in a digital age. Our classrooms need not only to be equipped with modern day technologies, but our curricula also must be aligned with realities of our times. When learners are taught to look within, they can use digital technologies to solve their own problems. What will happen here is that they will be able to globalise the local and localise the global using knowledge that is relevant to this age and times!

The resultant effects of learning that transcends conventions will be sustainable development. This is because learning that goes beyond primordial sentiments will challenge status quo and throw up new ways of doing things. Besides, it will also focus on how societal problems can be solved in our own ways using globally relevant ideas, methods and applications. Educational institutions in Nigeria need to begin to look within and think beyond. Using analogue approach will lead us to nowhere in this century. Rather, it will make the nation to continue to grope in the dark. There is need for total overhauling of our educational system to begin to focus on how to solve our problems in our own ways. With real learning tailored towards solving problems, learners may not complain of unemployment or underemployment again as they would have been well equipped to solve problems and add value to the society. In all of these, it must be noted that 21st century learning is no longer analogue! If learning, unlearning and relearning that will lead to sustainable development must take place, technology, especially digital technology must be the driver!

Isaac Oluyi is a personal development advocate and head of public relations unit of the National Centre for Technology Management, an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He can be reached on

Isaac Oluyi
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