21st Century Skills Defined

Posted by on May 5th, 2016

The 21st century is often referred to as the information age. Specific skills have been identified as necessary for students to learn in the classroom and carry into the workforce. Referred to as 21st century skills, these abilities go beyond core subject areas and provide a deeper foundation for success in our modern society.

The skills are broken into three categories: life, learning and literacy. Cultivation of these skills usually takes place through integration in the classroom with hands-on and project-based learning activities. The acquisition of these skills will be essential for high school equivalency preparation as adult learners prepare to be more competitive in the work force.



Content knowledge and thinking skills are not the only skills that are needed in complex life and work environments like those represented in the 21st century. Life skills are crucial components for successful navigation through life and work in the information age. The development of these skills helps create a well-rounded individual that appeals to future employers and others. Life skills consist of the following traits:

  • Flexibility
  • Initiative
  • Social & Cultural Skills
  • Productivity
  • Leadership


Learning skills differentiate students in their preparation for engaging in complex life and work situations. There are those students who have the skills and are well equipped verses those who are not. Referred to as the “Four Cs,” the 21st century learning skills are:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking



The 21st century offers an abundance of access to information. This access to information is fueled by a technology and media-driven environment. Individuals must demonstrate these skills in order to be effective. Essential literacy skills include:

  • Information
  • Media
  • Technology


In the Classroom

The classroom is the breeding ground for life, learning and literacy skills. Much of the instructional process has shifted from traditional text book and lecture formats to incorporate 21st century skills. Educators are employing individualized learning strategies to meet students where they are and evolve with their growth. This personalized approach is especially helpful in the adult education classroom as learners are bringing a wealth of previous experiences with them.

Instructors are using more hands-on and project-based learning to give students opportunities to apply the 21st century skills across content areas. Project-based learning allows instructors to emphasize deep understanding and competency rather than shallow knowledge.


As adult learners prepare to go to the next level in their lives, it is necessary for them to acquire 21st century skills. The skills that they pick up will likely make the difference in their ability to secure new jobs and career options. In addition, the skills will carry over to their personal lives and allow them to navigate situations more effectively.

Mastery of life, learning and literacy skills comes through a shift in instructional approaches. By creating 21st century learning environments, teachers enable students to work in relevant, real world contexts with access to data, tools and technology. These environments foster meaningful learning experiences and allow for the continuous evaluation of students’ mastery of 21st century skills.


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