The 21st Century Learning Project

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What Is the Purpose and Focus of The 21st Century Learning Project?

The aim of the 21st Century Learning Project is to create a framework of a common language, theory, and operational plan for societies to promote citizens’ learning in the 21st century. This framework will organize an expanding global network of engaged partners collaborating in an iterative process of refinement, application, and expansion. A premise is that efforts to promote learning must be centered on the student and grounded in contemporary research and insights about student identity, agency, future-mindedness, and well-being; the future of work; realities of climate change, public health, inequality, equity, race, culture, migration; human development; economics; and the many issues affecting the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s children and teenagers. In coming months the project will engage stakeholders through convenings, documents and reports, social and other media. We invite your participation.

Why and How Did the Project Take Shape?

The earliest development took place in and around Kampala, Uganda, where co-founder Howard Blumenthal was a Media Fellow for Peripheral Vision International (PVI), an NGO devoted to the use of media, technology, and popular culture to catalyze social change in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. With the assistance of PVI, Howard interviewed local students, who talked about their lives, their future, school, and their interest in learning. The concept took shape as Kids on Earth, now featuring nearly a thousand interview segments with hundreds of children and teenagers from India, Paraguay, Bulgaria, England, Iran, Kosovo, Brazil, and many other countries. When COVID stopped travel, he started a new web series called Reinventing School featuring hour-long interviews with educational professionals, and students, in partnership with The Learning Revolution Project. To refine his understanding of the “healthiest, wealthiest, most connected, best educated, most literate, most globally minded generation in the history of the world,” Howard wrote a book-length manuscript, Our Whole World in Their Hands: 21st Century School and Our Global Future, and began speaking at universities in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, and on radio and the internet in Africa and Australia. After spending time with UVA faculty and Dean Bob Pianta, the University of Virginia emerged as a founding partner.

Who are the Project Founders?

Robert (Bob) Pianta, PhD, is Dean of the UVA School of Education and Human Development, Batten Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Education, Professor of Psychology, and founding director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia. His interests focus on the intersection of education and human development, in particular the ways that teacher-student relationships and interactions contribute to students’ learning and development. Dr. Pianta has led research and development on measurement tools and interventions that help teachers interact with students more effectively and that are used widely in the United States and around the world. Dr. Pianta received a BS and an MA in Special Education from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He began his career as a special education teacher and joined the University of Virginia faculty in 1986. He is past Editor of the Journal of School Psychology and Associate Editor for AERA Open. An internationally recognized expert in both early childhood education and K-12 teaching and learning, Dr. Pianta regularly consults with agencies, foundations, universities, and governments worldwide. He was named a Fellow of the American Education Research Association in 2011, in 2016 received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota, and was named to the National Academy of Education in 2021.

Howard Blumenthal is best known as the co-creator and producer of the Emmy and Peabody Award winning PBS series, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Prior to his work with PBS, Howard led the initial team for the development of MTV, and helped to launch Nickelodeon for what is now WarnerMedia. His many years as a media executive and producer have resulted in projects with Cartoon Network, HBO, Showtime, Food Network, History Channel, and more, including The Boys of Summer, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. He has served as CEO and Foundation President for New Jersey Network, among the largest PBS operations, and as CEO for Independence Media, one of the smallest, where he established a new $100 million foundation. Startups include three television production companies, and one software development boutique. He has served as a Senior Vice President for a children’s digital media division of Hearst, and in the same role for the world’s largest music website for Bertelsmann. He is the author of more than 20 books, notably The Complete Time Traveler: A Tourist’s Guide to the Fourth Dimension with Dorothy Curley Tecklenburg and Brad Williams; The Creative Professional; three editions of This Business of Television, with Oliver Goodenough, and other titles about U.S. history, popular music, media, and technology. For many years, he was a popular syndicated columnist distributed to more than 100 newspapers by The New York Times Syndicate and United Features Syndicate. He has been associated with The University of Pennsylvania for several years, initially as a Visiting Scholar at The Annenberg School for Communications, currently as Senior Scholar at The Positive Psychology Center. Later this year, The State University of New York will confer an Honorary Doctorate of Letters. He also the co-founder of The National Archives of Game Show History at The Strong National Museum of Play.

We are two people starting something intended to become an exemplar of a 21st century project for the public good: modern, diverse, representative, rooted in data and practical reality, fun, change-oriented, socially responsible, multi-lingual, multi-generational, connected, international, and forward-thinking. With a strong and powerful emphasis on the minds of kids.

Where is the Project Based?

Home base is the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Some of our work will be done in or near Charlottesville, but the nature of this project requires collaboration among students and professionals all over the world. For now, much of this collaboration will be digital, but we look forward to abundant travel so we can work together in person. As more people become involved, we will encourage personal interaction, when it is safe and reasonable to do so.

What is the Future of the Project?

The project is fundamentally and by design collaborative and iterative. We are not going to do this alone. First, we look forward to working with students in the U.S. and all over the world. They experience school and learning first-hand and must have a primary role in designing this new framework. Second, we are working with a group of educators and will expand our roster of classroom teachers, faculty, thought leaders, policy makers, and partners. Third, by design the project is primarily bottoms-up—encouraging the students to lead—but it must work top-down as well. We anticipate working through convenings, documents and reports, social and other media, to involve different people, from different backgrounds, with different perspectives. We seek partners in many forms. We seek not to replace or impose upon the efforts of others across the globe, rather we hope to learn about, organize, support, and add value to those efforts.

How Can I Learn More?

We are just beginning to assemble our communications structure. For now, please tell us about yourself and your interest through an email sent to Howard Blumenthal at:

As we move into action, we will release the initial version of the framework, build a library of assets related to the framework and 21st century learning, and develop a collaborative environment so we can work together.

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