Today’s learner needs a rounded skillset appropriate for a job market where digital savvy and the ability to work within multiple disciplines are both crucial. In a world that is hyper-connected through a diverse range of communication technologies, it’s important for learners to acquire adaptable ways of working with others. Educational technology can address these needs, helping learners acquire learning, literacy and life skills.

What are 21st Century Skills? The Three ‘Ls’

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning divides 21st Century skills into three categories: Life, learning and literacy skills.

Learning skills such as critical and creative thinking as well as the arts of collaboration and communication are more important than ever. Global trade and industry and the global dissemination of information means that learners are emerging into multilingual and multidisciplinary work environments.  As Thoughtful Learning says:

‘To hold information-age jobs … students also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies, and deal with a flood of information.’

The growth of digital technologies and the extent to which we rely on them in the workplace means that learners need to acquire not only information and media literacy but technology literacy too.

Crucial 21st Century life skills include flexibility and social awareness, as well as leadership skills and the ability to be productive and proactive.

Education experts in several countries are finding that there is a mismatch between the skills learners acquire in the course of ordinary school learning and the kinds of versatility and varied literacies employers require.

Why is educational technology crucial for closing the gap?

Despite the fact learners are not being equipped with 21st Century skills consistently in all locales, educational technology can help close educational gaps. ELearning courses and educational apps help learners to flesh out their life, learning and literacy skills through self-directed study. Free online courses (such as the multidisciplinary university courses offered by Coursera) are also helping school leavers expand their skill sets, both within and beyond their own fields of study.

Fundamental subjects such as world languages, mathematics and the sciences remain crucial in schools, but educators are acknowledging the importance of interdisciplinary subjects such as global awareness, civic literacy and environmental literacy. Specialist apps and eLearning courses developed around these topics make it possible for individuals to receive ongoing, current education in these areas.

Examples of initiatives using educational technology to spread 21st Century skills

TeachUNICEF offers web-based lesson plans and multimedia resources that use a rights-based framework to engage students and assist them in developing political and socio-economic awareness. Lessons cover subjects such as business ethics (for example the global fight to end child labour) as well as workplace issues such as gender equality. UNICEF Live! uses 21st Century communication technology such as Skype to host virtual classes that ‘empower global citizens with the skills, tools, and mind-sets to take action in personally meaningful ways’.

Apps User Group, an authorized Google Education Trainer, shares several creative ideas for using Google’s suite of free tools to foster 21st Century skills such as the 4 C’s – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. For example, peer reviewing between learners using Google Doc’s in-built review feature.  This is an example of how everyday digital technology can also be put to educational ends.

There is a constantly expanding list of educational apps designed to foster 21st Century skills. Besides app producers that assist learners in acquiring 21stCentury skills, there are also initiatives encouraging children to become producers themselves. UNESCO YouthMobile is a worldwide initiative that teaches young girls and boys to create mobile apps focusing on sustainable development. In this way, learners in developing countries are encouraged to not only be beneficiaries of the next ground-breaking educational technology but creators, too.