21st century skills to prepare the citizens of the future

Keywords/tags: Competencies, soft skills, design thinking, challenge-based learning

How do we relate, communicate, inform ourselves and work in the 21st century? The expansion of technologies has changed our model of society, which is now globalized, highly technological, interconnected and changing.

The present century demands from the population skills and competencies to be effective in the knowledge society, at work, as citizens and free time. They demand skills that do not depend on our training or knowledge (Hard Skills), but skills that have to do with our personality, language, empathy, traits that allow us to relate, communicate or work in a team (Soft Skills). Now "the important thing is no longer what we learn, but what we can do with what we have learned” (M. Maropee).

Automation, robotization and the application of artificial intelligence are displacing workers in some tasks that require only the use of tools or certain skills. Employment requires skills such as creativity, critical thinking, flexibility and collaborative work, characteristics that machines cannot replace. The challenge is to prepare students in these 21st century competencies for performance in globalized and more competitive environments.

What should students master in order to be successful in society?

Different organizations have worked to conceptualize these competencies. Proposals such as those of the OCDE, P21 Framework or the ATC21shave grouped them into competencies related to information, communication, learning and innovation skills, and for life and work. Also important are the skills and competencies for living in the world and those related to ethics and social impactto face the challenges of globalization, multiculturalism and ICT.

The 4Cs

Creativity, Critical Thinking, Cooperation and Communication (4Cs) are the essential skills that should be learned in the context of key subjects (mathematics, science, art, languages, etc.) and cross-cutting themes (basic knowledge of the global world, health, civics, environment) to succeed in today's world (P21 Framework). They are learning and innovation skills and with them knowledge can be built:

  • Creativity and innovation: thinking and working creatively (and collaboratively) implementing innovations.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving: using different types of reasoning, making judgments and decisions: analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, synthesizing, making connections, and solving problems.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Communicate clearly, by different means (oral, written), in different contexts and for different purposes. Collaborate demonstrating flexibility, willingness, respect and ethics.

Challenge-based learning and 21st century competencies

Learning methods must also be adapted to the needs posed by the future of students. The ways of learning have changed, the requirements of the labor market for future professionals have changed, and students, for their part, expect to be prepared for real-world problem solving.

Challenge-based, student-centered learning provides students with the opportunity to face problems or situations that emulate reality for which they must provide solutions while developing key competencies such as collaborative and multidisciplinary work, decision making, ethics and leadership (Informe EDU Trends, Aprendizaje Basado en Retos).

Through challenge-based learning, the platform BeChallenge methodology platform creates a learning ecosystem that fosters the development of (soft skills), especially creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving, through a proprietary methodology based on design thinkingconnectivism and challenge-based learning.

Ana Mira Vidal
Trainer in information competencies
Specialist in information, reference and user training in libraries
Project Manager bechallenge.io



Mmantsetsa Maropee. Directora de l’International Bureau of Education (UNESCO)
Fundación Omar Diego. About 21st Century Competencies. 21st Century Competencies..
OECD (2009). 21st Century Skills and Competences for New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries. OECD, Directorate for Education, OECD Education Working Papers.
(Traducido al castellano por ITE: http://recursostic.educacion.es/blogs/europa/media/blogs/europa/informes/Habilidades_y_competencias_siglo21_OCDE.pdf)
Partnership for 21st century learning. Framework for 21st Century Learning.
Scott, Cynthia Luna (2015). The Future of Learning 2 What kind of learning is needed in the 21st century. Education, research and foresight: working papers; 14 , 14 p.*; 2015/WS/23.
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Observatory for Educational Innovation (2016). Challenge-Based LearningEDU Trends. Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

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