Framework for 21st Century Learning

The Framework presents a holistic view of 21st century teaching and learning that combines a discrete focus on 21st century student outcomes(a blending of specific skills, content knowledge, expertise and literacies) with innovative support systems to help students master the multi-dimensional abilities required of them in the 21st century.

The key elements of 21st century learning are represented in the graphicand descriptions below. The graphic represents both 21st century skills student outcomes (as represented by the arches of the rainbow) and 21st century skills support systems (as represented by the pools at the bottom).

While the graphic represents each element distinctly for descriptive purposes, the framework views all the components as fully interconnected in the process of 21st century teaching and learning.

Twenty-First Century Student Outcomes

The elements described in this section as “21st centurystudent outcomes” (represented by the rainbow) are the skills, knowledge and expertise students should master to succeed in work and life in the 21stcentury.

  1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes

Mastery of core subjects and 21st century themes is essential to student success.

  • English, reading or language arts
  • World languages
  • Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Economics
  • Science
  • Geography
  • History
  • Government and Civics

In addition, schools must promote an understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into core subjects:

Global Awareness

Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues

Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts

Understanding other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages

Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy

Knowing how to make appropriate personal economic choices

Understanding the role of the economy in society

Using entrepreneurial skills to enhance workplace productivity and career options

Civic Literacy

Participating effectively in civic life through knowing how to stay informed and understanding governmental processes

Exercising the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national and global levels

Understanding the local and global implications of civic decisions

Health Literacy

Obtaining, interpreting and understanding basic health information and services and using such information and services in ways that enhance health

Understanding preventive physical and mental health measures, including proper diet, nutrition, exercise, risk avoidance and stress reduction

Using available information to make appropriate health-related decisions

Establishing and monitoring personal and family health goals

Understanding national and international public health and safety issues

Environmental Literacy

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the environment and the circumstances and conditions affecting it, particularly as relates to air, climate, land, food, energy, water and ecosystems

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of society’s impact on the natural world (e.g., population growth, population development, resource consumption rate, etc.)

Investigate and analyze environmental issues, and make accurate conclusions about effective solutions

Take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges (e.g., participating in global actions, designing solutions that inspire action on environmental issues)


  1. Learning and Innovation Skills

Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as those that separate

students who are prepared for a more and more complex life and work environments in

the 21st century, and those who are not.

A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.

They include:

Think Creatively

Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)

Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)

Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Work Creatively with Others

Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively

Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work

Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas

View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes

Implement Innovations

Act on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the field in which the innovation will occur

Reason Effectively

Use various types of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation

Use Systems Thinking

Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems

Make Judgments and Decisions

Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs

Analyze and evaluate major alternative points of view

Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments

Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis

Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

Solve Problems

Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways

Identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions

Communicate Clearly

Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts

Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions

Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade)

Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priori as well as assess their impact

Communicate effectively in diverse environments (including multi-lingual)

Collaborate with Others

Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams

Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal

Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

  1. Information, Media and Technology Skills

Today, we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Effective citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:

  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy



Access and Evaluate Information

Access information efficiently (time) and effectively (sources)

Evaluate information critically and competently

Use and Manage Information

Use information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand

Manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources

Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information


Analyze Media

Understand both how and why media messages are constructed, and for what purposes

Examine how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors

Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of media

Create Media Products

Understand and utilize the most appropriate media creation tools, characteristics and conventions

Understand and effectively utilize the most appropriate expressions and interpretations in diverse, multi-cultural environments

ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) LITERACY

Apply Technology Effectively

Use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate information

Use digital technologies (computers, PDAs, media players, GPS, etc.), communication/networking tools and social networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate and create information

Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information technologies


  1. Life and Career Skills

Today’s life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge. The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills, such as:

  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility


Adapt to Change

Adapt to varied roles, jobs responsibilities, schedules and contexts

Work effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities

Be Flexible

Incorporate feedback effectively

Deal positively with praise, setbacks and criticism

Understand, negotiate and balance diverse views and beliefs to reach workable solutions, particularly in multi-cultural environments


Manage Goals and Time

Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria

Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals

Utilize time and manage workload efficiently

Work Independently

Monitor, define, prioritize and complete tasks without direct oversight

Be Self-directed Learners

Go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise

Demonstrate initiative to advance skill levels towards a professional level

Demonstrate commitment to learning as a lifelong process

Reflect critically on past experiences in order to inform future progress


Interact Effectively with Others

Know when it is appropriate to listen and when to speak

Conduct themselves in a respectable, professional manner

Work Effectively in Diverse Teams

Respect cultural differences and work effectively with people from a range of social and cultural backgrounds

Respond open-mindedly to different ideas and values

Leverage social and cultural differences to create new ideas and increase both innovation and quality of work


Manage Projects

Set and meet goals, even in the face of obstacles and competing pressures

Prioritize, plan and manage work to achieve the intended result

Produce Results

Demonstrate additional attributes associated with producing high quality products including the abilities to:

– Work positively and ethically

– Manage time and projects effectively

– Multi-task

– Participate actively, as well as be reliable and punctual

– Present oneself professionally and with proper etiquette

– Collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams

– Respect and appreciate team diversity

– Be accountable for results


Guide and Lead Others

Use interpersonal and problem-solving skills to influence and guide others toward a goal

Leverage strengths of others to accomplish a common goal

Inspire others to reach their very best via example and selflessness

Demonstrate integrity and ethical behavior in using influence and power

Be Responsible to Others

Act responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind



Twenty-First Century Support Systems

The elements described below are the critical systems necessary to ensure student mastery of 21st century skills. 21st centurystandards, assessments, curriculum, instruction, professional development andlearning environments must be aligned to produce a support system that produces21st century outcomes for today’s students.

  1. Twenty-First Century Standards
  2. Assessment of 21st Century Skills
  3. Twenty-First Century Curriculum and Instruction
  4. Twenty-First Century Professional Development
  5. Twenty-First Century Learning Environments



21st Century Standards

Focus on 21st century skills, content knowledge and expertise

Build understanding across and among core subjects as well as 21st century

interdisciplinary themes

Emphasize deep understanding rather than shallow knowledge

Engage students with the real world data, tools and experts they will encounter in college, on the job, and in life; students learn best when actively engaged in solving meaningful problems

Allow for multiple measures of mastery

Assessment of 21st Century Skills

Supports a balance of assessments, including high-quality standardized testing along with effective formative and summative classroom assessments

Emphasizes useful feedback on student performance that is embedded into everyday learning

Requires a balance of technology-enhanced, formative and summative assessments that measure student mastery of 21st century skills

Enables development of portfolios of student work that demonstrate mastery of 21st century skills to educators and prospective employers

Enables a balanced portfolio of measures to assess the educational system’s effectiveness in reaching high levels of student competency in 21st century skills

21st Century Curriculum and Instruction

Teaches 21st century skills discretely in the context of core subjects and 21st century interdisciplinary themes

Focuses on providing opportunities for applying 21st century skills across content areas and for a competency-based approach to learning

Enables innovative learning methods that integrate the use of supportive technologies, inquiry- and problem-based approaches and higher order thinking skills

Encourages the integration of community resources beyond school walls

21st Century Professional Development

Highlights ways teachers can seize opportunities for integrating 21st century skills, tools and teaching strategies into their classroom practice — and help them identify what activities they can replace/de-emphasize

Balances direct instruction with project-oriented teaching methods

Illustrates how a deeper understanding of subject matter can actually enhance problem-solving, critical thinking, and other 21st century skills

Enables 21st century professional learning communities for teachers that model the kinds of classroom learning that best promotes 21st century skills for students

Cultivates teachers’ ability to identify students’ particular learning styles, intelligences, strengths and weaknesses

Helps teachers develop their abilities to use various strategies (such as formative assessments) to reach diverse students and create environments that support differentiated teaching and learning

Supports the continuous evaluation of students’ 21st century skills development

Encourages knowledge sharing among communities of practitioners, using face-to-face, virtual and blended communications

Uses a scalable and sustainable model of professional development

21st Century Learning Environments

Create learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes

Support professional learning communities that enable educators to collaborate, share best practices and integrate 21st century skills into classroom practice

Enable students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work)

Allow equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies and resources

Provide 21st century architectural and interior designs for group, team and individual learning

Support expanded community and international involvement in learning, both face-to-face and online



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