I have been visiting schools and talking to education leaders recently about the challenge of building 21st century skills into existing content and core skills curriculum. One approach is to simply enhance the learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve to include higher level skills like problem solving and critical thinking, and then design curriculum to achieve those goals. But that just adapts a traditional subject-area curriculum, not fundamentally redesigning it.
Another, more powerful way is to weave core skills, complex 21st century skills, and interdisciplinary content into an interesting and engaging tapestry. Creating a series of real-world problems to solve is one of the best ways to do this. At Cisco, when we moved from traditional corporate technical training ('sit and get') to more hands-on approaches, we leveraged technology to create real-world learning experiences for our students. We started pretty low-end with screen captures and written case study problems, but then moved on to more sophisticated simulation modules in which learners could work through real problems. Case situations were presented, then students could study videos, technical papers, or customer examples, on demand, as they worked through a problem. These modules weren't tightly designed into a long course, but were recommended as components of the personalized learning roadmap after students took knowledge and skill-focused assessments. The very same 'learning objects' were available as performance support for on-the-job refreshers.
In education, e-learning is becoming a popular term, but hopefully educators will learn from our corporate experiences. Don't just put the existing curriculum, even if modified to include 21st century skills, into a online format. Create new experiences for learners and link them to real-world challenges and situations. Learning the content becomes a necessary requirement to solve a real problem, not an end in itself. Create a series of authentic small problems to solve that can link together in a larger context and create support materials that become tools in the toolbox for the problem-solver. With creativity, curriculum developers and teachers can build many interesting situations for learners and make available a variety of resources for them to use as they work through the challenges.