21st Century Skills

What are 21st Century Skills?

“21st-century skills”, “21-century learning” “21st-century education”, “21st-century learners”… These phrases are all around us. They even feature as themes in the SmartBean Magazine and Resources. What do they mean? What’s different in this century? Why are they necessary? Who decides what these are and how they should inform K-12 learning? We hope to answer these questions briefly below.

Simply put, the broad idea of 21st-century education/learning revolves around the notion that schooling as we have known it for the last 150 years is a 19th century invention that must change to keep pace with the demands of the new economy. Schools, skills and learning that were designed to prepare students for work and life in the industrial economy need to be rethought and re-engineered to serve the needs of people in this century – dictated by a changing world that has been transformed by technological advances, the “Knowledge Revolution”, a global economy and environmental changes.

The broad thinking around 21st century learning acknowledges the need for new “form and function” to be added to education goals. This thinking is informed by a belief that learning must leverage the affordances of new technologies, employ better pedagogies based on recent research on how people learn, and be cognizant of the characteristics of a new breed of learners. This is not say that “basics” and “core subject learning” need to be done away with. Few will refute, however, that there are several new literacies that need to be taught and several old ones that are not so relevant anymore.

21st Century Skills

The Partnership of 21st Century Skills (P21) is a unique public-private organization that is working “to create a successful model of learning for this millennium that incorporates 21st century skills into our system of education.” Prominent members and partners include, among others, the US Department of Education, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Microsoft, Apple, DELL and Cisco. The US DoE injected $1.5 million in matching funds from the private sector organizations to create the organization in 2002. While P21 is working primarily to influence US public school education through guidelines as well as comprehensive pedagogical, curricular, and assessment frameworks, these ideas have broad applicability in any formal K-12 education setting in the US and outside.According to P21, there are six key elements of 21st century learning

  • Emphasize core subjects
  • Emphasize learning skills
  • Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills
  • Teach and learn in a 21st century context
  • Teach and learn 21st century content
  • Use 21st century assessment that measure 21st century skills

Learning skills include:

  • Information and communication skills which include media literacy, information literacy and ICT literacy.
  • Thinking and problem-solving skills which include critical thinking and systems thinking, problem identification formulation and solution, creativity and intellectual curiosity.
  • Interpersonal and self-directional skills which include-
    • Flexibility and Adaptability
    • Initiative and Self-Direction
    • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
    • Productivity and Accountability
    • Leadership and Responsibility

Current 21st-century tools include:

  • Information and communication technologies including computers, the Internet and other technologies
  • Audio, video and other media and multimedia tools

This list is a snapshot of current 21st century tools. The mix of tools will evolve and change rapidly in the future. Today’s technology may be obsolete tomorrow. It is impossible to predict the tools that will be essential for learning and working in the years to come. This is why it is important for people to acquire the learning skills that will enable them to learn to use next-generation technology – and why businesspeople and educators need to continue collaborating so schools will stay abreast of new technology.

21st century context can be created by-

  • Making content relevant to students’ lives
  • Bringing the world into the classroom
  • Taking the students out into the world
  • Creating opportunities for students to interact with each other, with teachers and with other knowledgeable adults in authentic learning experiences

21st-century content includes:

  • Global awareness
  • Financial, economic and business literacy
  • Civic literacy
  • Health Literacy

Here is the framework for 21st century learning published by P21 in April 2009.  For more details and other publications, visit the P21 website.

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