21st Century Skills

21st Century Skills

Author: Peter Bellisle

Educators will clarify their understanding of what exactly 21st Century Skills are, moving their understanding beyond the assumption that they are all technology based. This deeper introduction to 21st Century Skills will transition teachers thinking from "I have no idea" to "I'm already doing a lot of that" by providing a foundation on which to base their new thinking. This thinking will allow teachers to begin thinking about how to further embed 21st Century Skills into their practice. 

So often when teachers are asked what 21st Century Skills are there is usually a long pause and then an assumption that it must be something to do with technology. When asked how they embed these skills into their practice there is usually an equally long pause and maybe a shrug of the shoulders or perhaps an honest "I don't." This tutorial is merely a starting point, or even a place for clarification. Hopefully when you finish this you will have a clear understanding of what  21st Century Skills are and how they can be understood and authentically embedded into your daily practice without a massive shift in pedagogy. In fact, with a little planning you will most likely be able to build on what you are already doing well, that actually fits within this skillset, and purposefully move forward knowing with confidence that you are meeting the needs of embedding 21st Century Skills into your educational practice. 

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How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

The term "21st-century skills" is generally used to refer to certain core competencies such as collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving that advocates believe schools need to teach to help students thrive in today's world. In a broader sense, however, the idea of what learning in the 21st century should look like is open to interpretation—and controversy.

To get a sense of how views on the subject align—and differ—we recently asked a range of education experts to define 21st-century learning from their own perspectives.

EdWeek Vol. 04, Issue 01, Page 32

21st Century Skill: COLLABORATION

'''Collaboration''' is a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together toward a common goal—typically an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature —by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Collaboration does not require leadership and can even bring better results through decentralization and egalitarianism. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.

Structured methods of collaboration encourage introspection of behavior and communication. These methods specifically aim to increase the success of teams as they engage in collaborative problem solving. Forms, rubrics, charts and graphs are useful in these situations to objectively document personal traits with the goal of improving performance in current and future projects. (From Wikipedia: collaboration)

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Lynne Munson
President and Executive Director, Common Core

I define 21st-century learning as 20th- (or even 19th!-) century learning but with better tools. Today’s students are fortunate to have powerful learning tools at their disposal that allow them to locate, acquire, and even create knowledge much more quickly than their predecessors. But being able to Google is no substitute for true understanding. Students still need to know and deeply understand the history that brought them and our nation to where we are today. They need to be able to enjoy man’s greatest artistic and scientific achievements and to speak a language besides their mother tongue. According to most 21st-century skills’ advocates, students needn’t actually walk around with such knowledge in their heads, they need only to have the skills to find it. I disagree. Twenty-first-century technology should be seen as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge, not an excuse to know less.

21st Century Skill: COOPERATION


'''Cooperation, co-operation, or coöperation''' is the process of working or acting together, which can be accomplished by both intentional and non-intentional agents. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side, while in its more complicated forms, it can involve something as complex as the inner workings of a human being or even the social patterns of a nation. It is the alternative to working separately in competition. Cooperation can also be accomplished by computers, which can handle shared resources simultaneously, while sharing processor time.
Cooperation, more formally speaking is how the components of a system work together to achieve the global properties. In other words, individual components that appear to be “selfish” and independent work together to create a highly complex, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts (Synergetic) system. Examples can be found all around us. The components in a cell work together to keep it living. Cells work together and communicate to produce multicellular organisms. Organisms form food chains and ecosystems. People form families, gangs, cities and nations. Neurons create thought and consciousness. Atoms cooperate in a simple way, by combining to make up molecules. Understanding the mechanisms that create cooperating agents in a system is one of the most important and least well understood phenomena in nature, though there has not been a lack of effort.
However, cooperation may be coerced (forced), voluntary (freely chosen), or even unintentional, and consequently individuals and groups might cooperate even though they have almost nothing in common qua interests or goals. Examples of that can be found in market trade, military wars, families, workplaces, schools and prisons, and more generally any institution or organisation of which individuals are part (out of own choice, by law, or forced).

21st Centrury Skills Infographic

Source: p21.org

21st Century Skill: COMMUNICATION

''Communication''' is a process that allows organisms to exchange information by several methods.

Exchange requires feedback. The word ''communication'' is also used in the context where little or no feedback is expected such as broadcasting, or where the feedback may be delayed as the sender or receiver use different methods, technologies, timing and means for feedback.

Communication is the articulation of sending a message, whether it be verbal or nonverbal, so long as a being transmits a thought provoking idea, gesture, action, etc. . .

Communication can be defined as the process of meaningful interaction among human beings. It is the act of passing information and the process by which meanings are exchanged so as to produce understanding.

Communication is the process by which any message is given or received through talking, writing, or making gestures.

There are auditory means, such as speaking, singing and sometimes tone of voice, and nonverbal, physical means, such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch,eye contact, or the use of writing.

Communication happens at many levels (even for one single action), in many different ways, and for most beings, as well as certain machines. Several, if not all, fields of study dedicate a portion of attention to communication, so when speaking about communication it is very important to be sure about what aspects of communication one is speaking about. Definitions of communication range widely, some recognizing that animals can communicate with each other as well as human beings, and some are more narrow, only including human beings within the parameters of human symbolic interaction.

Nonetheless, communication is usually described along a few major dimensions:

Content (what type of things are communicated)
Source/Emisor/Sender/Encoder(by whom)
Form (in which form)
Channel (through which medium)
Destination/Receiver/Target/Decoder(to whom)
Purpose/Pragmatic aspect

(From Wikipedia: Communication)

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Keith Moore
Director, Bureau of Indian Education, Department of Interior

Students in the 21st century learn in a global classroom and it’s not necessarily within four walls. They are more inclined to find information by accessing the Internet through cellphones and computers, or chatting with friends on a social networking site. Similarly, many teachers are monitoring and issuing assignments via virtual classrooms.

Many of our Bureau of Indian Education schools are located in disadvantaged rural and remote areas. The BIE is working with various stakeholders to ensure that our schools have a Common Operating Environment so that students and teachers can access information beyond the classroom.

Within the federal BIE school system, we must rely upon the vision and the ability of our tribal leadership, parents, teachers, and students to work with the federal leadership to keep education a top priority.

21st Century Skill: CREATIVITY

'''Creativity''' (or "creativeness") is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts.

From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both originality ''and'' appropriateness. An alternative, more everyday conception of creativity is that it is simply the act of making something new.

Although intuitively a simple phenomenon, it is in fact quite complex. It has been studied from the perspectives of behavioural psychology, social psychology, psychometrics,cognitive science, artificial intelligence, philosophy, history, economics, design research, business, and management, among others. The studies have covered everyday creativity, exceptional creativity and even artificial creativity. Unlike many phenomena in science, there is no single, authoritative perspective or definition of creativity. Unlike many phenomena in psychology, there is no standardized measurement technique.

Creativity has been attributed variously to divine intervention, cognitive processes, the social environment, personality traits, and chance ("accident", "serendipity"). It has been associated with genius, mental illness and humour. Some say it is a trait we are born with; others say it can be taught with the application of simple techniques.

Although popularly associated with art and literature, it is also an essential part of innovation and invention and is important in professions such as business, economics,architecture, industrial design, science and engineering. (From Wikipedia: Creativity)



An '''organization'' is a social arrangement which pursues collective goals, which controls its own performance, and which has a boundary separating it from its environment. The word itself is derived from the Greek word ''meaning ''tool''. The term is used in both daily and scientific English in multiple ways. 


Problem Solving

'''Problem solving''' forms part of thinking. Considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, problem solving has been defined as higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of more routine or fundamental skills. It occurs if an organism or an artificial intelligence system does not know how to proceed from a given state to a desired goal state. It is part of the larger problem process that includes problem finding and problem shaping. 

Regarding problem solving skills, the University of Michigan's Engineering department has a great web page delineating the various types of problems as well as the numerous skills required. For those interested in Bloom's Taxonomy, you can click on the page 10 Types of Home Problems.

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Barnett Berry
Founder and CEO, Center for Teaching Quality

Twenty-first-century learning means that students master content while producing, synthesizing, and evaluating information from a wide variety of subjects and sources with an understanding of and respect for diverse cultures. Students demonstrate the three Rs, but also the three Cs: creativity, communication, and collaboration. They demonstrate digital literacy as well as civic responsibility. Virtual tools and open-source software create borderless learning territories for students of all ages, anytime and anywhere.

Powerful learning of this nature demands well-prepared teachers who draw on advances in cognitive science and are strategically organized in teams, in and out of cyberspace. Many will emerge as teacherpreneurs who work closely with students in their local communities while also serving as learning concierges, virtual network guides, gaming experts, community organizers, and policy researchers.


Self-Direction—Monitoring one's own understanding and learning needs; locating appropriate resources; transferring learning from one domain to another. (From The Partnership for 21st Century Skills)

Social Responsibility—Acting responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind; demonstrating ethical behavior in personal, workplace, and community contexts. (From The Partnership for 21st Century Skills)

21st Century Skill: TECHNOLOGY FLUENCY

Information and Media Literacy Skills—Analyzing, accessing, managing, integrating, evaluating, and creating information in a variety of forms and media. Quoting Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, un-learn and relearn.” Those who can un-learn and relearn are the leaders for tomorrow.”

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Sarah Brown Wessling
2010 National Teacher of the Year

Twenty-first-century learning embodies an approach to teaching that marries content to skill. Without skills, students are left to memorize facts, recall details for worksheets, and relegate their educational experience to passivity. Without content, students may engage in problem-solving or team-working experiences that fall into triviality, into relevance without rigor. Instead, the 21st-century learning paradigm offers an opportunity to synergize the margins of the content vs. skills debate and bring it into a framework that dispels these dichotomies. Twenty-first-century learning means hearkening to cornerstones of the past to help us navigate our future. Embracing a 21st-century learning model requires consideration of those elements that could comprise such a shift: creating learners who take intellectual risks, fostering learning dispositions, and nurturing school communities where everyone is a learner.

21st Century Skills - An Educannon Video

This is an enhanced video made using EduCannon. It is not embedded here because it starts automatically, please follow this link to watch this short video lesson. http://bit.ly/1j8KMjM

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Karen Cator
Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education

Success in the 21st century requires knowing how to learn. Students today will likely have several careers in their lifetime. They must develop strong critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills in order to be successful in an increasingly fluid, interconnected, and complex world. Technology allows for 24/7 access to information, constant social interaction, and easily created and shared digital content. In this setting, educators can leverage technology to create an engaging and personalized environment to meet the emerging educational needs of this generation. No longer does learning have to be one-size-fits-all or confined to the classroom. The opportunities afforded by technology should be used to re-imagine 21st-century education, focusing on preparing students to be learners for life.

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Milton Chen
Senior Fellow & Executive Director, Emeritus, The George Lucas Educational Foundation; author of Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools

Twenty-first-century learning shouldn’t be controversial. It is simply an effort to define modern learning using modern tools. (The problem is that what’s modern in 2010 has accelerated far beyond 2000, a year which now seems “so last century.”)

Twenty-first-century learning builds upon such past conceptions of learning as “core knowledge in subject areas” and recasts them for today’s world, where a global perspective and collaboration skills are critical. It’s no longer enough to “know things.” It’s even more important to stay curious about finding out things.

The Internet, which has enabled instant global communication and access to information, likewise holds the key to enacting a new educational system, where students use information at their fingertips and work in teams to accomplish more than what one individual can alone, mirroring the 21st-century workplace. If 10 years from now we are still debating 21st-century learning, it would be a clear sign that a permanent myopia has clouded what should be 20/20 vision.

21st Century Learner

From cell phone and video games to Facebook and YouTube, digital media are changing the way young people play and socialize in the 21st century. Learn more at http://www.macfound.org/programs/lear....

If the 21st Learner video does not appear here is the link to this video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0xa98cy-Rw

Source: MacArthur Foundation (http://www.macfound.org/programs/learning/)

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Steven Farr
Chief Knowledge Officer, Teach For America; author of Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap

Twenty-first-century learning must include the 20th-century ideals of Brown v. Board of Education. Sadly, we have failed to deliver on that promise. Our system perpetuates a racial and socioeconomic achievement gap that undermines our ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity.

As we study what distinguishes highly effective teachers in our nation’s most challenging contexts, we see that education reform requires much more than lists of skills. We need classroom leaders setting an ambitious vision, rallying others to work hard to achieve it, planning and executing to ensure student learning, and defining the very notion of teaching as changing the life paths of students. What will make America a global leader in the 21st century is acting on what we know to educate all children, regardless of socioeconomic background.

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Steve Hargadon
Founder, Classroom 2.0; Social Learning Consultant, Elluminate

Twenty-first-century learning will ultimately be “learner-driven.” Our old stories of education (factory-model, top-down, compliance-driven) are breaking down or broken, and this is because the Internet is releasing intellectual energy that comes from our latent desires as human beings to have a voice, to create, and to participate. The knowledge-based results look a lot like free-market economies or democratic governments (think:Wikipedia). Loosely governed and highly self-directed, these teaching and learning activities exist beyond the sanction or control of formal educational institutions. I believe the political and institutional responses will be to continue to promote stories about education that are highly-structured and defined from above, like national standards or (ironically) the teaching of 21st-century skills. These will, however, seem increasingly out-of-sync not just with parents, educators, and administrators watching the Internet Revolution, but with students, who themselves are largely prepared to drive their own educations.

Gallop Poll

Young U.S. adults who say they "often" developed 21st century skills -- such as real-world problem-solving and global awareness -- in their last year of school are more likely to self-report higher work quality.

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Diane Ravitch
Education Historian; author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

To be prepared for the 21st century, our children require the following skills and knowledge: an understanding of history, civics, geography, mathematics, and science, so they may comprehend unforeseen events and act wisely; the ability to speak, write, and read English well; mastery of a foreign language; engagement in the arts, to enrich their lives; close encounters with great literature, to gain insight into timeless dilemmas and the human condition; a love of learning, so they continue to develop their minds when their formal schooling ends; self-discipline, to pursue their goals to completion; ethical and moral character; the social skills to collaborate fruitfully with others; the ability to use technology wisely; the ability to make and repair useful objects, for personal independence; and the ability to play a musical instrument, for personal satisfaction.

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Susan Rundell Singer
Laurence McKinley Gould Professor of Natural Sciences, Carleton College

Adaptability, complex communication skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, and systems-thinking are essential skills in the 21st-century workforce. From my perspective as a scientist and science educator, the most effective way to prepare students for the workforce and college is to implement and scale what is already known about effective learning and teaching. Content vs. process wars should be ancient history, based on the evidence from the learning sciences. Integrating core concepts with key skills will prepare students for the workplace and college. We need to move past mile-wide and inch-deep coverage of ever-expanding content in the classroom. Developing skills in the context of core concepts is simply good practice. It’s time to let go of polarizing debates, consider the evidence, and get to work.

Younger adults aged 18 to 22 (37%) are more likely than those aged 23 to 35 (28%) to say they applied what they learned to solve real-world problems during their last year of school. This higher level of real-world problem-solving experience among younger U.S. adults may reflect the recent push in education to incorporate project-based learning into school curriculums.

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