Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 461-470
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 461
Is There an Instructional Framework for 21st Century Learning?
Shu-Shing Lee, David Hung
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University,
Singapore City, S ingapore
Email:, s h u s h i n g g
Received June 20th, 2012; revised July 18th, 2012; accepted July 31st, 2012
The current schooling system is great in leveling up students’ literacy but it does not develop flexible un-
derstandings of concepts. We recognize that traditional instructional science model at best develop stu-
dents’ attitudes, skills, and knowledge (A-S-K). We propose an instructional framework for developing
dispositions, attitudes, skills, and knowledge (D-A-S-K) that embraces five zones of learning: 1) zone of
instruction; 2) zone of practice; 3) zone of interaction; 4) zone of tinkering; and 5) zone of meta-cognition.
The proposed framework stresses that flexible learning is about the interplay between tacit and explicit
knowledge. 21st century learning is about dialectical interactions between theory and practice, individuals
and communities, formal and informal learning, learners and meta-cognitive brokers. The paper focuses
on conceptually constructing an instructional framework for 21st century learning. We are not suggesting
that our proposed framework is the only possible instructional model for the 21st century. Rather, we
hope that our proposed framework invokes further discussions to examine other models for 21st century
teaching and learning. Future work is needed to implement and examine the proposed framework for
practical implications.
Keywords: Instructional-Learning Framework; Disposition Development; Tacit-Explicit Knowledge
Interactions; Formal-Informal Learning; Meta-Cognitive Brokering
Traditional instructional systems (IS) paradigms are funda-
mentally grounded on an objectivist epistemology where the
focus is on codifying knowledge into reified forms and as-
sumed that such knowledge when transmitted can be appropri-
ated “as it is” explicitly. As long as students can reproduce
these forms of explicit/reified knowledge, they are assumed to
have learned (Collins, 2006; Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999;
Karagiorgi & Symeou, 2005; Sadler, 1989; Vrasidas, 2000).
The constructivist paradigm, on the contrary, emphasizes a
different epistemology view that knowledge or knowing is in
the meaning making process, and that knowledge can be reified.
Reified knowledge is recognized as “versions” of narratives and
these explications are always in flux (Jonassen & Rohrer-
Murphy, 1999; Savery & Duffy, 2001; Vrasidas, 2000).
From an epistemological or paradigm-ic perspective, in-
structivists and constructivists are irreconcilable (Jonassen &
Rohrer-Murphy, 1999; Karagiorgi & Symeou, 2005; Streibel,
1989; Vrasidas, 2000). We hope to provide a (so called) realist
and pragmatist perspective to what we have observed in educa-
tional and training settings as to what works and what does not.
Obviously, we recognize that what works or otherwise is value
laden, but we have appropriated the 21st century literacies or
dispositions as a frame of reference (Claxton & Carr, 2004;
Dede, 2010; Gardener, 2010).
In this paper we recognize that the instructional systems’
model has permeated much of curricular planning and designs
both in K-12 schools and in training contexts, such as the mili-
tary schools. However, we have observed many transforma-
tions in these settings and what is usually imposed upon these,
as instructional-objectivist may not be very accurate. On the
other hand, constructivist approaches have not been pervasively
adopted for the very reasons that process-oriented paradigms
are non-scalable. As a consequence of our analysis of both
K-12 schools and the military context (in Singapore), we at-
tempt to conceptualize a framework that better explains or de-
scribes seemingly predominant tensions between instructional
and other learning paradigms. At the same time, we recognize
the urgency of the need to propose an instructional-learning
framework that addresses 21st century dispositions, especially
adaptability, consistent to the concept of adaptive expertise
(Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Corte, 2007; Hatano &
Oura, 2003).
Instructional Systems and the Focus on
Explicit Knowledge
We know that in traditional instructional systems’ frame-
works, explicit knowledge is the focus, and through task analy-
sis, instructional objectives are derived and through these, ex-
plicit knowledge is taught (Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999;
Karagiorgi & Symeou, 2005; Sadler, 1989; Wilkins, 2000;
Wilson, 1996; Vrasidas, 2000). Schools predominately translate
these into curricular units and deliver them in instructional
packages and materials. Explicit knowledge is taught, and these
are usually tested through the means of exams and tests. The
approach is fundamentally consistent to codifying overt knowl-
edge, usually referred to as content, and transmitted to lea rn er s.
In typical training contexts, such as the military, where (vo-
cational) skills are usually emphasized, learners or trainees are
exposed to many out-of-classroom training exercises, and these
opportunities (consistent to principles of embodiment in situa-
tions) enable the tacit dimensions of knowledge to be learned
through personal encounters with the explicit knowledge. Mili-
taries engage in many large scale exercises, in joint collective
war-games, simulating warfare situations, and these opportuni-
ties enable trainees to apply and contextualize what they have
learned theoretically (Harris, 2002; Prensky, 2001, 2003).
In other words, consistent to Polanyi’s (1962) “personal
knowledge” theory, useful knowledge (Whitehead, 1929) can
only be applicable or productive when one has personalized
that understanding (of explicit knowledge) into some form of
tacit and embodied understanding—whether that knowledge
was first gained explicitly through instruction or constructed
socially or experientially (as in social constructivist paradigms).
Whitehead (1929) alludes that much of what is learned in
schools are inert or knowledge that cannot be usefully applied
in real-world situations.
However, in contrast to military training contexts, significant
degrees of explicit knowledge taught in K-12 schools remains
“in the head” learned by heart or through rote learning peda-
gogical approaches. Because the content knowledge acquired
through schooling thus far surpasses the opportunities to inter-
nalize knowledge or make personal through doing and experi-
ence (equivalent to out-field exercises), it is likely the case that
much explicit knowledge remains as “mental” rather than “em-
bodied”. Embodied knowledge as popularized today is probably
consistent to tacit or personal knowledge (Madhavan & Grover,
From an instructional paradigm point of view, if learners or
trainees are given exposure and opportunities to learn “by do-
ing” (Schank, 1995), we recognize that tacit knowledge can be
formed and this becomes useful to the practice. Of course we
are making the assumption that when learners engage in expe-
riential learning (Kolb, 1984); the situations they encounter are
as authentic as possible relative to real-world societal chal-
Drawing implications from the above understanding, the tacit
dimensions of knowing something or some domain in reality is
more critical than acquiring the explicit knowledge related to
that phenomenon. While paper and pencil tests serve to test
what a student knows, the affordances of this form of testing
mostly support mental or conceptual dimensions of knowledge.
It is only through enactments in doing and in situations that
both tacit and explicit knowledge can be productively tested
(Polanyi, 1966). Instructional paradigms that complement both
classroom and out-field training may enable attitudes, skills,
and knowledge to be acquired. In this respect, schools suffer
from the inability to organize for “out-field” complementarities
to classroom instruction due to sheer logistical encumbrances.
In military training, because of the specialized nature of skills
to be learned and acquired, classroom and out-field training can
be better co mpleme nted.
There is also now an advocating by educational researchers
on “performance” consistent to play in theatre/drama. In a sense,
learning is learning to perform within a particular stage and
context similar to performances in a play (theatre). By enacting
in performance, learners have to experience and develop
through role-playing and first person involvement both tacit and
explicit dimensions of knowledge (Chee, 2001, 2010; Gwee,
Chee, & Tan, 2010; Jan, Chee, & Tan, 2010; Thomas & Brown,
A key point we draw at this juncture is that while IS para-
digms are usually criticized as objectivist, and tacit knowledge
is not theoretically emphasized, in reality during training of
specialized vocational skills, both tacit and explicit knowledge
are gained through first person role-playing and enactment. In
the military context, there is also an intentional stance of
“knowledge management” where codification of commander’s
experiences is constantly required (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003;
Nonaka & Konno, 1998; Warne, 1999; Warne, Ali, Pascoe, &
Agostino, 2001). This process enables reflection and meaning
making of tacit experiences gained in “doing”. Military doc-
trines are constantly produced and refined over time.
From Whence Does Good Learning Come
From the above discussion, it is obvious that we espouse to a
dialectical relationship between theory and experience. “The
map is not the territory” (Korzybski, 1994: p. 58). This famous
quote implies that experience in “territory” is not the “map” (or
abstracted knowledge). If one engages in a “territory” experi-
ence, one relates stories and personal theories of one’s experi-
ence through explicit or overt representations through language.
Theories formed or get recognized by a community find their
way into textbooks when many people who have similar ex-
periences of the territory concur to the abstracted principles
arising from that experience. Of course, there are also some
“maps” that cannot be experienced, for example, some mathe-
matical or physics laws that are derived from abstractions of
abstractions. But fundamentally when we interpret a “map” we
should recognize that a map is but one version of truth. Post-
modern views recognize truth to be unknowable and all we can
attain at are versions of reality (Rorty, 1999). As such, critiques
of IS paradigms have their point, but that may be throwing the
baby out with the bathwater.
While IS approaches advocate theory before practice as a
general instructional assumption, we recognize that as long as
theory is dialectically balanced with practice, and if theory can
be built upon—reconstructed from personal interpretations and
refined upon constantly—the development of tacit and explicit/
conceptual knowledge is gained.
The second implied dialectical relationship in the examples
we described above is between the individual and collective-
social or community. In military exercises, however constrain-
ing the in-class theory lessons may be, commanders and their
soldiers engage in large scale battalion, division, and brigade
level exercises. Within these structures, individuals interact
with each other through many forms of media and technologies,
through practice-related genres coordinate and collaborate in
complex tasks, and adhere to a whole regime of rules and regu-
lations consistent to their doctrines of military warfare. In other
words, individuals engage as part of a larger community of
practice (CoPs) (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002) within
their respective roles, and there is a whole system of progres-
sion through the ranks consistent to junior to senior “ranks”
within CoPs.
At this juncture, we recognize that not all IS approaches lead
to individual-collective opportunities of engagement. Schools
for example function historically differently from specialized
vocational setups as with the military and serve probably dif-
ferent societal goals. Schools are generic in that they equip
learners with content knowledge of the traditional disciplines,
such as science, mathematics, history, etc., and there are few or
no equivalent authentic and practical learning experiences that
are aligned to the collective level involvements with disciple-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
nary CoPs (Brown, 2002; Brown & Adler, 2008; Brown &
Duguid, 1996; Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy, 1999; Savery &
Duffy, 2001; Streibel, 1989; Vrasidas, 2000). Perhaps not with
the same theoretical reasons, some high performing schools (in
Singapore) have begun to forge tight collaborations with com-
The Singapore Sports School—because of the goal of pro-
ducing sportsmen and women—collaborates with Sports Coun-
cils and Federations, which in turn, links them to the larger
societal community of athletes (Singapore Sports School, 2011).
This principle of enactment applies also to the School of the
Arts, Singapore and its linkages to the Arts community both
locally and internationally (School of the Arts, 2011). Inevita-
bly these specialized schools are linking up with communities
in their sports and arts programs rather than the academic disci-
plines per se. The National University of Singapore (NUS)
High School of Math and Science (a school tied to the NUS has
links with a community of academics in the parent university
(NUS High School of Math and Science, 2011). This school is
the closest we have with respect to forming community links
with the formal academic curriculum. However, by and large
due to the IS tradition through which curricular is derived from
and the need to cover increasing amounts of content, this sec-
ond dialectics of individual-collective/community is found
Again, at this juncture, we caveat that IS paradigms advocate
explicit knowledge and focus less on the practice of such know-
ledge, though not necessarily in community-collective situa-
tions. However, if we can combine or integrate IS approaches
with learning by doing, and complement these with community
principles of learning and engagement, we have possibilities of
good learning.
Societal Needs for the 21st Century
There is also now an increasing call beyond the traditional
notions of “attitudes”, “skills”, and “knowledge” (A-S-K) (es-
poused by instructional paradigms) into 21st century soft skills
such as leadership, adaptability, resilience, collaboration, so-
ciability, risk taking etc. While IS paradigms advocate A-S-K
as goals of instruction, we hold to the view that IS approaches
lend themselves best to S-K, where attitudes (A) are better ap-
propriated through observations, role-modeling, and “picked
up” or stolen in social contexts (Brown & Duguid, 1996).
Policy makers, especially those in educ ation, have a tendency
to add onto the existing curriculum more needs from society—
with the dominant stance of adding content. Even when these
needs are values or ethics/morals inclined, filling up the “white
spaces” of students who may otherwise be engaged in play,
hobbies, and other forms of informal experimentations (Brown,
2005). Studies in informal learning are suggesting productive
literacies, which can be developed by explorations in such con-
texts (Barron, 2006; Nasir & Hand, 2008). Because it is largely
difficult to control or plan for learners/students’ own explora-
tions, we usually see them as unproductive. We are raising the
caution at this point that more formal content filling without the
dialectical dynamics of theory-experience and individual-
community just “makes Jack a dull boy”. The corollary of quan-
tifying what students know in international tests (such as
TIMSS and PISA) may also not be necessarily holistic in de-
veloping them with tacit knowledge and experiences relevant to
risk taking, experimentations, and adaptability necessary for the
21st century. But do we know whether students’ informal
learning experiences are productive and leading towards 21st
century dispositions—if the formal is not doing it too well?
Many of these so-called 21st century skills are characterized
as “soft” (Claxton & Carr, 2004; Dede, 2010; Gardener, 2010).
While there is an intuitive understanding that “soft” may thus
be different from explicit content knowledge (suggesting
“hard”), there is clearly a lack of a clear framework to “train”
(borrowing the IS framework) these skills. Again, we appropri-
ate the word “train” because there is the implicit assumption
that these skills can be “trained”. Rather, we are advocating that
by the very nature these skills are soft, situations and environ-
mental contexts where factors and conditions leading to the
(higher) possibility of these soft skills can be tacitly assimilated,
is probably a better framing to understanding how these soft
skills can be learned. In other words, there is a greater propen-
sity to think in the orientation that soft skills are “picked up” or
“caught” in the process of learning by doing within socially rich
contexts. They are by nature soft and thus oriented more to-
wards the tacit or personal knowledge paradigm.
Moreover, when we analyze the various soft skills espoused
in the 21st century li te rat ure (Cl axt on & Ca rr , 200 4; Dede, 2010;
Gardener, 2010), there are those skills that lend themselves to
be possibly learned within the instructional/training cum com-
munity framework, for example, collaboration and leadership
within a particular practice. However, when it comes to “adapt-
ability”, it is in our opinion that, traditional paradigms fail.
Adaptability: A Disposition for the 21st
Century Context
Adaptability connotes learning by going across contexts—
hence, not necessarily of the same specialization. The tension
thus lies with the issue of how much specialization is to be
learned and through what kinds of approaches, which may en-
courage or discourage such a disposition. For example, if
learners are rote learning (from the onset of the training) even
within specializations and traditional reward-punishment me-
thods are typically adopted, we hypothesize that learners will
tacitly pick up the “value” that risk taking and being adaptive is
not beneficial. Hence, adaptability is first to be encouraged
within specializations, and carefully encouraged to move to-
wards across contexts explorations. Our research suggests that
learners achieve flexible expertise within domains when more
capable peers scaffold and model appropriate behaviors and
thinking processes towards greater competencies. For learners
to be adaptive and explore across contexts, they need to analyze
their learning experiences in different specializations to transfer
and experiment “adapted” learning strategies to enhance learn-
ing in new specializations (Hung, Lee, & Lim, 2012; Lee, Hung,
Lim, & Shaari, in pre ss).
Based on our research, schools’ formal curricular can be
complemented with Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) to help
academically weaker students perform better (Hung, Lee, &
Lim, 2012; Lee et al., in press). CCAs are typically likened to
informal contexts where learners can take risks (hopefully be-
cause they would not be punished for experimenting). So while
schools have adopted CCAs right from the on set of students’
schooling, we should be careful not to impose too many explicit
deliverables (key performance indicators) for students and link
them to the formal assessments for school placement purposes.
In fact, it is in our view that CCAs should be “assessed” (not in
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 463
any high stakes fashion) for students’ risk taking actions, adapt-
ability considerations, and other forms of 21st century disposi-
tions, which cannot be learned through the formal curricular.
It is in our hope that we can contribute to a framework where
both formal and informal curricular can be complemented to
holistically develop the learner in both explicit and tacit dimen-
sions of knowledge oriented by the 21st century literacies so
needed in the workforce. We recognize the role of formal cur-
ricular and the “exam” paradigm. However, our contention lies
not with it, but with the extent to which it is made prominent
(or high stakes) at the expense of (academically weaker) stu-
dents’ exposure to opportunities that develop tacit knowledge
and other forms of 21st century literacies (learned in the infor-
mal CCA equivalent) on the assumption that tacit knowledge
remains difficult to enact in the formal curricular.
Our research study suggests that academically weaker stu-
dents can through their CCAs develop self-esteem and confi-
dence, and these traits can be meta-cognitively transferred to
the formal curriculum with the help of brokers (Hung, Lee, &
Lim, 2012; Lee et al., in press). Brokers work alongside stu-
dents to compare and contrast learning experiences in CCAs
with learning experiences in the formal, classroom environment.
The brokers’ role is to help students adjust, experiment, and
transfer learning strategies across formal and informal contexts
and to help students develop an “adaptive-designer” disposition
to enhance students’ learning in the formal curriculum. Meta-
cognitive dialogue between brokers and learners is important
because brokers probe further to aid learners articulate their
cognition and catch “meta-cognitive” opportunities to help
learners see complementary learning experiences between for-
mal and informal contexts. These linkages enable more effec-
tive learning to occur and indirectly improve students’ confi-
dence levels and academic performances in the classroom con-
Formal-Informal Dialectics
As we analyzed the dispositions required, and if adaptability
is consistent to the notion of adaptive expertise (Bransford,
Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hatano & Inagaki, 1986; Resnick,
1987; Schwartz, Brandsford, & Sears, 2005), we reckon that the
two dialectics we have identified above are insufficient. Both
are within context/community/specialization and they can at
best facilitate flexibility and risk taking within domains. But
increasingly the call now is for adaptive rather than routine
experts. By this definition, individuals are required to be cross-
As such we introduce a third dialectics—formal and informal.
Table 1.
Differences between formal and informal.
Formal characteristics Informal characteristics
Extrinsic m oti v ation Intrinsic motivation
Hierarchical Bottom up
Systematized or planned Emergent
Stable deliverable criteria Community negotiable criteria
High stakes res ponsibility usually
with lesser degrees for risk taking
Allows for experimentatio n with
lower risks, usually interests
driven, and based on passion
Table 1 distinguishes the characteristics between the two.
From the characterization above, what is formal and informal
largely depends on the individual’s structural role involvements
with that activity. For example, one of the authors is typically
engaged by military agencies to do keynotes and consultancies,
and to him, this setting is less formal or informal compared to
his university’s appointment. As such, he found himself more
willing to experiment with new ideas and thoughts with the
informal community.
As you can see from Table 1, informal communities such as
those learners/students are involved in, for example, chess clubs,
robot ics, ph otograp hy, and ma ny others have characteristics for
learners to experiment and develop upon their interests.
Hence, while the dialectics of theory with experience and in-
dividual with community develop A-S-K, we posit that cross-
boundary dispositions such as adaptability can be developed
through the formal-informal dialectics.
Meta-Cognition and the Role of Across-Contexts
There are not many studies researching into the interplays
between formal and informal learning (Ainsworth & Eaton,
2010; Barron, 2006; Hall, 2009; Nasir & Hand, 2008; Straka,
2009). In our research, we have found that meta-cognition dia-
logue plays a key role in forming links between formal and
informal contexts. However to be effective in transferring
learning experiences across contexts, brokers need to under-
stand students’ learning experiences in different contexts and
then engage in metacognitive brokering for across contexts
(formal-informal) comparisons. Comparisons bring forth simi-
larities and differences between learning experiences so learn-
ing strategies in informal contexts can be adapted, transferred,
and experimented to improve formal, classroom learning (Hung,
Lee, & Lim, 2012; Lee et al., in press).
Specifically, our research shows a case study of how broker
leveraged on learning experiences in the bowling CCA and
compared it with student’s learning in mathematics (Hung, Lee,
& Lim, 2012; Lee et al., in press). Broker used the analogy of
“winning strategy” from bowling competitions and applied it to
develop a strategy for maximizing scores in mathematics exams.
This analogy helped the student performed across contexts
analysis between learning in bowling and mathematics to create
a “winning strategy” for mathematics exams.
By analyzing learning incidents across contexts with the
broker, the student was able to adapt and design his own learn-
ing strategy for improving grades in mathematics. He recog-
nized that similar to training to achieve high scores in bowling
competitions, he must address his weaknesses before the
mathematics exam. During the exam he must read questions
properly, do well in questions that he is confident of to maxi-
mize score, and leave those questions that he does not know to
extra time.
Dialoguing with the broker enabled the student to capitalize
on his learning experiences in the informal, bowling context
and “design” his own learning strategies to attain better grades
in mathematics. By working with the broker to transfer, adapt,
and experiment with learning strategies across contexts, the
learner developed confidence and adaptability dispositions that
he could use similar approaches to enhance his learning ex-
periences in other domains.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 465
An Instructional Framework for Developing
Dispositions, Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge
(D-A-S-K)Combining All 3
Dialectical Interactions
Our analysis of instruction for learning shows that holistic
and authentic learning requires an instructional framework that
emphasizes different dialectical relationships between learners,
experience, formal and informal communities, as well as a bal-
anced interplay between tacit and explicit knowledge. Tradi-
tional IS models can be overly linear and less emergent and
dialectical. Building on from this analysis, we propose an in-
structional framework with five zones (see Figure 1), which is
intended to be interdependent, that are mapped to the following
five dimensions to develop dispositions, attitudes, skills, and
1) Learning explicit knowledge from an instructional per-
2) Dialectic links between theories where individuals ex-
perience tacit knowledge through practice, and with linkages to
the explicit knowledge;
3) Dialectic social interactions between individuals and com-
4) Dialectic tinkering between learning in formal and infor-
mal communities/contexts;
5) Engaging in meta-cognitive processes to regulate and
transfer learning within and across contexts.
An illustration of the proposed instructional framework for
D-A-S-K is shown in Figure 1. The D-A-S-K framework is a
long-term instructional model that focuses on teaching “adap-
tive” dispositions for life-long learning in the 21st century. The
framework recognizes the importance of exams and the formal
curricular for teaching conceptual knowledge in the zone of
instruction. It tries to address limitations of the formal curricu-
lar for teaching 21st century dispositions by harmonizing in-
struction with other means, such as involving task performance
in the zone of practice and dialoguing in authentic situations
within the zone of social interaction. The instructional frame-
work for D-A-S-K creates numerous opportunities for reinforc-
ing holistic learning through different ways, especially for aca-
demically weaker students, by emphasizing the development of
tacit knowledge and 21st century dispositions, like adaptability.
It must be emphasized that the different zones in the frame-
work are non-linear or not of equal emphasis. However, all
zones need to operate smoothly to provide varying learning
experiences that balance tacit and explicit aspects of knowing.
As shown in Figure 1, the proposed framework for D-A-S-K
nurtures tacit and explicit knowledge coupled with 21st century
dispositions through a formal-informal learning trajectory. The
dual directional arrow shows a continuum of learning and in-
struction that emphasizes the interplay between formal-informal
contexts and explicit-tacit knowledge. On the extreme left end,
zone of instruction focuses on teaching explicit knowledge in
formal, classroom environments. Towards the right end, learn-
ing moves into informal contexts where tacit knowledge is
Meta-cognitive brokering (see zone of meta-cognition, Fig-
ure 1) manages learning in all zones; enabling learners to be
adaptive within contexts and handling cross boundary situations.
Specifically, the zones of instruction, practice, and interaction
form an entity that focuses on learning D-A-S-K within con-
texts while learning that embraces all zones on the left side of
Figure 1 relates to learning that crosses contexts.
In the paragraphs below, each zone in the proposed frame-
work is discussed with examples from the schooling and mili-
tary contexts.
Zone of Instruction“Learning by Heart ”
Zone of instruction is aligned with the IS model that main-
stream schools use to teach students content knowledge. In this
zone, there is an objective relationship between learner and
theory. The emphasis is on the objectivist epistemology where
teacher is the sage. Task analysis is used to derive curricular
units and deliverables. This allows teachers to determine the
types of codified knowledge to transmit to students without
focusing on context of use. The general assumption is teachers
should advocate in-depth understandings of the theory before
moving on to practice.
Paper and pencil tests are predominantly used to evaluate
students’ performance. Students are thought to have learned if
they reproduce conceptual dimensions of knowledge that are
similar to that of the teacher. By not focusing on practice,
knowledge acquired remains inflexible and inert as a mental
The zone of instruction is particularly useful for learning
foundational content knowledge, such as the multiplication
table or the periodic table for chemistry. There is now a body of
literature that suggests that learning by heart is efficacious and
that such traditional pedagogies can be useful (Chan, 2008;
Learni ng D-A-S-K a cross
e) Zon e of meta -cognit ion
a) Zone of
instruction b) Zone of
practice c) Zone of
interaction d) Zone of
Explicit knowledge
Formal contexts
Learning D-A-S-K within cont exts Tacit knowledge
Info rmal cont exts
Figure 1.
Learning through an instruction al f ramework for D -A-S-K.
Kennedy, 2002; Lee, 2009; Yang, Zheng, & Li, 2006; Yusuf,
Zone of Practice“Learning by Performance”
Learning by performance” involves instruction that recog-
nizes learning as a dialectic relationship between theory and
experience. This is an improvement of the traditional IS model
by harnessing practice or field training. Through real-life en-
actments of codified knowledge to perform authentic tasks,
conceptual knowledge is restructured with personal interpreta-
tions to include tacit dimensions. This leads to a personalized
understanding of concepts that embraces both explicit and tacit
Teaching and learning in the zone of practice is similar to
performance-based learning. Students through first person en-
gagements in practice acquire authentic learning experiences,
thus, building tacit knowledge onto conceptual understandings
(Chee, 2001, 2010).
Assessment of learning in this zone does not focus solely on
exams. It stresses authentic performances in real-life scenarios
and tries to assess learning by understanding if students can
solve authentic problems.
In schools, like the Institute of Technical Education in Sin-
gapore, vocational and practical skills are emphasized in its
teaching practices. Assessments of learning do not just focus on
traditional pencil and paper exams but also stress practicum
exams. For example, students enrolled in the hairdressing
course are assessed based on how they understand clients’ re-
quests and whether they can perform hair services, like perming
and dyeing.
Drawing examples from the military, foundation schools can
be aligned to both zones of instruction and practice. In the
military context, it is not good enough for soldiers to know
explicit knowledge (such as, parts of the rifle) but they must
also know how to use the knowledge to engage in warfare and
strategies (for example, they must know how to fire the rifle
and load it with bullets).
Zone of Interaction“Learning by Social
Zone of interaction relates to teaching that involves dialecti-
cal social interactions between learners and a community. The
collective level social interactions allow experiential knowledge
to be formed by talking to members and being enculturated to
practitioners’ ways of thinking. Experiential knowledge is in-
trinsically formed through a bodily experience of the domain.
The experience is about being exposed to the context’s affor-
dances, being embodied in the community’s practices, and be-
coming a member of the community. Experiential knowledge
includes tacit and explicit knowledge plus the collective, social
dimensions of knowledge that are formed by interacting with
the communit y.
Currently, we see some schools in Singapore trying to con-
nect students with communities of practitioners. For example,
The Singapore Sports School collaborates with national sports
councils and federations to come out with a training schedule
that does not disrupt athletes’ schooling schedule. The NUS
High School of Math and Science gets academics from its par-
ent university (NUS) to mentor students’ projects that require
research skills.
In the military environment, zone of interaction is aligned
with specialized units (for example, infantry or artillery units)
and advanced schools. In specialized units, schooled soldiers
engage in performative actions as members of a community of
military practice. Soldiers go to advanced schools to dialogue
with soldiers from other specialized units. They form larger
communities within the military environment to share experi-
ences, and update their doctrines of practice and theories.
Zone of Tinkering“Learning by Playing” in
Informal Communities
The above three zones are useful for teaching D-A-S-K
within contexts. Zone of instruction and practice stress more on
skills (S) and knowledge (K) while zone of interaction is better
at teaching dispositions (D) and attitudes (A) because of its
involvement in communities of practice. Increasingly, D-A-S-K
within contexts is insufficient to deal with problems in the 21st
century milieu where fluidness and adaptability across domains
are commonplace.
The instructional framework for D-A-S-K advocates that
dispositions, such as adaptability across contexts, should be
nurtured through a dialectical relationship between formal and
informal contexts. This naturally leads to the zone of tinkering
where learners learn by “playing” in different informal com-
What is defined as formal or informal very much depends on
the structure and learners’ role involvement within contexts. In
schools, formal learning occurs in classrooms where students
learn traditional disciplines like languages, humanities, mathe-
matics, and science. CCAs are seen as learning in informal
contexts because there are no formal assessments and students
engage in domains that interest them.
The informal learning environment provides affordances that
offer rich opportunities for risk-taking and experimenting with
theories. The informal environment allows dispositions, like
adaptability across contexts, to be “pick up” because learners
are involved in various para-communities where experimental
learning occurs and “trial and error” strategies are used.
For example, in the schooling environment, informal learn-
ing in the athletics CCA teaches students to adapt strategies
according to their strengths and weaknesses, to get good tim-
ings, and be resilient when setbacks occur. In contrast, informal
learning in the military environment involves soldiers partici-
pating in professional development that is outside of the mili-
tary context but relates to their interests. This creates a path for
second career after retirement. Professional development in
informal, para-communities is important in the military context
because soldiers tend to retire at an earlier ag e.
Zone of Meta-Cognition“Learning by Comparing
and Contrasting” between Contexts
The zone of meta-cognition is a “systems-level” zone that
raises above all the other zones. Teachers here act as brokers—
engaging in learners’ meta-cognitive processes to manage and
link learning experiences both within and across contexts.
Teacher brokers form linkages by being familiar with learners’
involvement in multiple communities and contexts (such as,
CCAs) to complement formal, classroom learning. Teacher
brokers need not be content experts in all domains. They en-
gage in meta-cognitive dialogue with learners by comparing
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
and contrasting experiences to transfer and adapt learning
strategies within and across contexts.
Brokering experiences within contexts involve learners re-
flecting and articulating their learning experiences in the zones
of instruction, practice, and interaction. Teacher brokers probe
learners to understand their strengths and weaknesses and de-
sign strategies to address these issues. On the other hand, man-
aging learning across zones relates to teacher brokers dialogu-
ing with students to transfer experiences across contexts, such
as between classroom and CCA contexts. By analyzing simi-
larities between contexts, teacher brokers work with students to
adapt and experiment learning strategies from informal contexts
(such as, bowling CCA) to impact students’ learning in formal
environments (such as, learning mathematics in school). Ac-
culturation is thus established where traits from one context are
borrowed or modified for another context.
For instance, teacher brokers may transfer the “calibration”
analogy used in bowling to mathematics exams. In bowling,
“calibration” relates to regulating one’s hand swing to the out-
side lane to ensure consistency in competitions. For mathemat-
ics, “calibration” means students understand different methods
of answering word problems for each topic. They then calibrate
answers accordingly to achieve better grades.
Table 2 summarizes key tenets of the proposed instructional
framework for D-A-S-K.
Discussion and Implications
A Flexible and Personalized Way of Learning
The current schooling system is a great system but we must
not see learning just from the traditional perspective. The pro-
posed instructional framework for D-A-S-K is a more holistic,
long-term model that attempts to develop “adaptive” disposi-
tions for the 21st century. The framework understands the IS
model’s efficiency in leveling up students’ literacy. However,
schools have removed the entire process through which holistic
and embodied learning occurs. An over emphasis on instruction
and explicit knowledge leads to less learning about tacit knowl-
edge through tinkering, exploring, and problem solving.
In the IS paradigm, there is often huge lag time between in-
struction and experience (Cope, 2005). By the time students use
the knowledge to solve problems the knowledge is forgotten.
Knowledge without first person experiences remains inert and
irrelevant. Learning in schools is de-contextualized because
knowledge is taught without demonstrating its use (Collins,
2006). This kind of learning has immense consequences. When
students see learning as irrelevant, they lose motivation. It kills
their love for life-long learning, which is vital for the 21st cen-
The proposed instructional framework for D-A-S-K tries to
address constraints in the IS paradigm by harmonizing instruct-
tion with other ways of attaining tacit knowledge through per-
formance, dialogue, dialectics across contexts, and meta-cog-
nitive brokering. The proposed instructional framework, thus,
reinforces holistic learning by creating opportunities for flexi-
ble and personalized learning on two levels (Hargreaves &
Shirley, 2009).
Firstly, the different zones proposed in the framework at-
tempt to provide supportive learning structures for different
students. Students who do not benefit from instruction are af-
forded opportunities to reinforce conceptual understandings by
enacting and interacting with communities of practitioners.
Students who excel in explicit knowledge can develop person-
alized understandings by solving problems and affiliating them-
selves with communities. The purposed instructional frame-
work, therefore, enables both academically strong and weak
Table 2.
Key tenets of an instructional framework for D-A-S-K.
An Instructional Framework for D-A-S-K
Zones Key Tenets
Zone of instruction
Traditional IS model
Teacher is t h e sage
Focuses on acquirin g conceptual knowledge without context
Learning is measured by reproducing co nceptual knowledge (i .e. paper and pencil exam)
Zone of practice
Traditional instruction al system + in-field pra ctice
Personal understanding of explicit knowledge through embodiment in authentic tasks and problems
Focuses on codified knowledge + practical experience = personal, tacit knowledge
Assessment of learning = paper a nd p encil exam + practicum
Zone of inte raction
Learning by embodying in practices, social interactions, and collective kn owledge of communities of practitioners
Experiential knowledge is constructed through interacting w ith members and embracing thinking processes of
Experiential knowledge = Tacit knowledge + explicit knowledge + collective social knowle dge
Zone of tinke r ing
Learning by “playing” in informal community
Formal or inf ormal community dependant on learne r’s role involvement
Informal communities provide afforda nces to “pick up” 21st century dispositions, like risk-taking, experimentation, and
Zone of meta-cogniti o n
A “systems-level” zone that links and manages learn in g in the different zones throug h metacognitive brokering
Teacher brokers dialogue with l earners t o compare and contrast learning experiences between formal and in formal
Teacher brokers probe learners to articu l ate their cognition and reflec t th eir strengths and weaknesses
Teacher brokers need not be content experts but act as facili tators to e nable across context learning experiences
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 467
students to experience holistic learning because learning is
addressed in a different way, emphasizing dialectics between
tacit and explicit knowledge.
21st century learning is all about dialectics. The dialectics of
theory and practice enable enactments of explicit knowledge to
shape personalized understandings. The dialectics of individu-
als with communities create experiential knowledge through
interactions with practitioners. Students do not just learn about
the discipline but they learn how to practice that discipline. The
formal-informal dialectics facilitate tinkering, exploring, and
experimenting to develop cross-boundary dispositions, like
Secondly, the proposed instructional framework supports
personalized learning because there is flexibility in terms of
how learning may evolve from tacit or explicit knowledge. The
proposed framework does not dictate the order of how different
kinds of knowledge are acquired. Learning does not follow the
IS approach where students focus first on content and then
work on enacting that explicit knowledge in authentic situations.
Students can learn within the proposed five zones in non-linear
ways. The order of learning is less important. Instead, learning
as a process should be student-driven and flexible—moving
towards a cyclical model that adapts to students’ goals and
provokes their thinking.
Smooth transitions and strong links between the proposed
zones are important so learning does not appear disorganized.
The zone of meta-cognition, thus, plays an essential, macro role.
It is the “executive control tower” of the learning process.
Teachers engage in meta-cognitive dialoguing to understand
students’ learning experiences in different zones and help stu-
dents form adaptive understandings. Meta-cognitive brokering
also occurs across formal and informal contexts where teachers
dialogue with students to transfer and re-contextualize learning
strategies across contexts.
The key emphasis in the proposed instructional framework is
that there must be interplay between tacit and explicit knowl-
edge to engage students in experiential learning (Kolb, 1984).
This kind of learning is contextualized and authentic. When
students appreciate how to use knowledge, they develop moti-
vation. Learning becomes relevant and active not passive.
Using Technology to Achieve 21st Century Learning
Technology greatly facilitates flexible and holistic learning
(Collins, 2006). Technology can be used to augment class-
rooms so that all fives zones proposed are practiced within the
same curricular time as what students are currently doing. For
instance, content that is traditionally taught through face-to-face
instruction can be made available online so students retrieve
them on a “need to know” basis. Online worlds, such as Quest
Atlantis and Second Life (Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, &
Tuzun, 2005; Brown & Adler, 2008), may address logistical
constraints in classroom contexts by incorporating more prac-
tice opportunities after classroom hours. Students can enact
conceptual knowledge in virtual environments or engage in
inquiry to develop tacit and explicit knowledge from first per-
son perspectives. Technology, hence, creates opportunities for
social collaborations and interactions in online worlds and com-
munities without sacrificing classroom time (Karagiorgi &
Symeou, 2005).
In this manner, there is perhaps no need to teach all the the-
ory first and then practice knowledge in authentic situations.
Learning should be adaptive occurring in a cyclical, spiral
manner that is student-driven and on-demand. Learning is a
hybrid of core curricula coupled with opportunities to branch
off to other interests in different contexts. (Brown, 2005). Tech-
nology is invested to augment classrooms. Through technology,
learning in the proposed zones becomes flexible and persona-
lized because it is not constrained by time and place. Time may
be freed to encourage learners to explore interests in informal
communities. Interacting with informal communities is key to
holistic learning because it opens up learners’ perspectives and
encourage across context interactions. Informal learning situa-
tions afford opportunities for learners to develop adaptability
skills because it provides embodied learning experiences for
learners to compare, contrast, and re-contextualize learning
strategies for the formal classroom context.
Learning, thus, becomes cyclical focusing on instruction, prac-
ticum, and reflection that is embedded across contexts. Teach-
ers are not sages. They become meta-cognitive brokers. Class-
room time is used less for instruction. Face-to-face time is used
to engage students in more discussions and dialogues with
teachers to address problems and weaknesses. Teachers apply
meta-cognitive brokering to ensure that students understand
how learning in the proposed zones gel together to form adap-
tive understandings about domains. Teachers encourage stu-
dents to share their learning experiences in different contexts so
that they may help students form links and transfer learning
strategies across formal-informal contexts. In this process of
meta-cognitive brokering, students may begin to appropriate
dispositions of adap ta bility as they transf e r a n d experiment wit h
learning strategies across formal-informal contexts.
Fundamentally, the teachers’ role has evolved to be less in-
trusive. It is more about guidance and facilitation on the fly
(Brown, 2005). Classroom instruction sets the context and
guides the learning activity. Teachers do not impose restrictions
on how the learning process should be like in the IS model.
Learning is now driven by students’ feedback about achieve-
ments and challenges in their learning experiences.
In this paper, the efficiency of the IS model is recognized
while incorporating four additional dimensions to advocate an
embodied way of learning. An instructional framework for
D-A-S-K is proposed and five dimensions of learning are
mapped to establish five zones for 21st century learning. The
five zones are: 1) zone of instruction; 2) zone of practice; 3)
zone of interaction; 4) zone of tinkering; and 5) zone of meta-
In our view, IS models at best enable attitudes, skills, and
knowledge to be developed. The framework, which we have
proposed further elaborates and enhances IS models with a
dispositional dimension and we are explicit to emphasize the
inter-relations that are necessary across the five zones. We have
also emphasized the dialectical nature of tacit-explicit knowl-
edge, individual-community, and formal-informal dimensions
which are lacking or non-holistic in existing IS and training
models. With the inclusion of meta-cognition to make sense of
the learning experienced by learner(s) across these five zones,
we believe our non-linear framework describes a process of
learning and instruction, which is more consistent to the needs
of the 21st century.
This paper has focused on constructing an instructional
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
framework for 21st century learning. We are not suggesting that
our proposed framework is the only possible avenue to achieve
learning and instruction for the 21st century. Rather, we hope
that our proposed framework sparks further discussions to un-
derstand how IS models can be value-added by leveraging other
possibilities, like learning within communities and learning in
informal contexts, to enrich students’ learning experiences and
prepare them to be adaptive individuals for the 21st century.
We understand that the implementation of any instructional
framework involves a substantial time frame and complex is-
sues, like supporting policies, leadership, and accountability to
stakeholders. Future work is needed to implement and examine
the proposed framework for pr actical implic ations.
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