An Introduction to 21st Century Skills: What They Are and Why They Matter

21st century skills are often cited as a prerequisite for success – particularly for young people and students, but also for adults already in the workforce. But what exactly are 21st century skills and why are they so important?

 

The definition of 21st century skills

 First, a definition. The Glossary of Education Reform defines 21st century skills as “a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces.”

 Traditionally, these skills have been summed up as the “4 Cs”: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. These capabilities, originally identified almost 20 years ago by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, may not be new, but they continue to offer a structure for thinking about modern education. The 4 Cs of 21st century learning emphasize the crucial nature of problem solving, analytic thinking, working together, and thinking outside the proverbial box. They serve as inspiration and guidance for educators looking to expand beyond traditional classroom methodologies.

While the 4 Cs still drive much of the conversation around 21st century learning, its scope has also increased as industry leaders delve deeper into what it takes to foster success. A broader definition of 21st century skills goes beyond the 4 Cs to encompass literacy and life skills as well. These include:

  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Productivity
  • Social skills

 Many experts believe the literacy skills to be particularly important in today’s digital world. A recent Forbes article, Teaching 21st Century Skills for 21st Century Success Requires an Ecosystem Approach, revealed that studies have shown that many students cannot determine what is advertising content, what is a news story, and when a source is credible. In addition, few students understand the permanency of social media postings and the implication of digital privacy policies. To be successful, young people must be able to navigate their world online and off, with the ability to think critically about the barrage of information they face every day.

 

The importance of 21st century skills

 As evidenced by the study referenced in Forbes, 21st century skills have never been more imperative to ensuring young people’s safety and success. They are also essential to the modern workplace. While a student may be able to get through high school on memorization, jobs don’t work that way.

 Employers report a dramatic dearth in candidates equipped with the skills they need to succeed. According to McKinsey, almost 40 percent of American employers say they can’t find people with the skills they need, even for entry-level jobs. This statistic underlines the fact that 21st century skills are not only necessary for in-demand jobs in technology, medicine, or business, but entry-level positions as well. It doesn’t matter what you want to do: you need to be able to communicate, collaborate, and think critically and creatively.

 What does 21st century learning look like in practice? It takes many different forms. At Knovva, we believe that 21st century skills are best cultivated both in and out of the classroom. Introducing blended learning models at school and experiential learning around the world creates a wide range of opportunities for students to stretch and grow. We would also add a fifth “C” to the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: citizenship. Global citizenship is perhaps the most essential 21st century skill in an international economy that only grows more intertwined every day. (Why is global leadership the most important 21st century skill? Read our analysis here.)

 We’re passionate about 21st century learning and committed to empowering the students of today to be the leaders of tomorrow. Watch the video below for more on Knovva’s approach to redesigning education.

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