21st Century Skills – Are They Neither? (Part 1)

BridgeSo we’re in the process of 21st Century Skills (see ISTE NETS and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) integration at our school. We’ll get into the details of that process in future posts, but I want to immediately get at a couple of points that keep coming up.

Thanks Jon Kemmerer for not giving up until receiving a coherent explanation for the question “Why are these being called 21st Century Skills, for Pete’s sake.” It’s a great question. And we’ll address it here in Part One of this post. Looking at the ISTE NETS, we have:

1.     Creativity and Innovation
2.     Communication and Collaboration
3.     Research and Information Fluency
4.     Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
5.     Digital Citizenship
6.     Technology Operations and Concepts

Well the only skill listed here that is new to the 21st Century is #5, Digital Citizenship. Although even that is really a 2oth century introduction, isn’t it? All of the others – including #6 (Technology Operations and Concepts) – have been goals of education let’s say at least since the beginning of the industrial revolution, if not much earlier. There has always been technology (think paper, books, printing presses, wheels, etc.). It’s only recently that we have digital?

Well, here’s the difference as I see it. During our agrarian, industrial (for which our educational system was designed) and early information eras, fluency in these skills was not required for the average worker. Fluency in these skills even in the last century meant you were automatically a leader in your field. That is one of the main points: fluency in these skills is now required to be an every-day worker in today’s information economy (if not post-information economy – See David Weinberger and others).)

The difference is related to the amount of information we must deal with in today’s world, and the pace of societal, cultural,  and technological change. In today’s world, knowing specific pieces of content is not nearly as important as being able to identify which pieces of information you need to be able to solve a particular problem. Related and equally important skills would be:

  • how to find that information
  • how to evaluate the vast amount of information out there for the pieces that are not only relevant but accurate and reliable
  • how to work with and communicate with others to solve problems larger than you can solve on your own
  • how to use solutions to known problems as conceptual templates for solving related but previously unsolved problems
  • how to use technology to help you process more information than you could process on your own (and identify in which cases that is necessary and with what tools)
  • etc.

So the reason these skills are called 21st Century Skills is not that they are new. It is because they are no longer niceties and extras, but are now critical for success in almost all areas.

Coming up in parts two and three of this post:

Why these skills need to be explicitly taught and assessed

Are these really skills, or are they part of the new literacy?

Published by Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.

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