Critique: “21st Century Skills are so last century!”

Donald Clark has an interesting critique about what the school can teach the students about the so-called 21st Century Skills by the title 21st Century Skills are so last century!

There are also some interesting comments after the post, for example from a reader “Neil” who suggests that

A minority of young people experience the latter through MMOs, but where else do they develop this? And, although more communictaion is becoming virual, young people need to be able to engage in face-to-face collaboration. School is a good place to do this and, in my experience, it is not something young people like doing. Yes, they may want to collaborate with friends on “raids”, but adult life also involves collaborating with people you don’t like around activities you’d not particularly choose.

I agree with the substantive point that many educators don’t have skills to teach these things directly, but I do think we can create environments in which they can emerge and be developed. You suggest a narrow range of contexts in which young people practice these skills, but I think we still need to address the issues of transfer and generalisation.

I think it is healthy to question these matters and also keep an ongoing discussion fruitful. Also what is actually critiqued should be clear. Is the point of the writer that

  • It is useless to embed the 21st century skills to “formal” education, or
  • Education and learning environments should be changed in a way where relevant skills and models are embedded in the learners’ lives
  • Nothing at all should be done.

I’m not actually sure what Donald then suggest we should do; keep the schools and educational institutions like they generally have been, get rid of all the teachers or get rid of even thinking about “teaching” the 21st century skills?

What I personally feel and seen is important, is teacher education. It has been done and changed before to suit the needs of that current society and should be gradually changing again. As if we still think teacher are important, which I think they are, we should think about how their education is organized.


Knowledge + Software + Right actions = Success

Shovel Testing
Image by Army Environmental Command

I hate when things are attached from their original context. This sometimes confuses people and prevents learning and seeing the big picture.

Lately I’ve been working as a guest speaker and coach in the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, giving presentations & group workshops for using social media in success, personal development and marketing – well, basically in every aspect of life.

I believe that what we should be doing better with education in this era of Knowledge Age, is to attach the use of services and applications more clearly with the use of different skills and actions.

If you are teaching about time management and don’t tell about the possible services or software which could support it, you are missing one area of the topic. I’m not saying everyone should be using them, but the skill of ICT capabilities is nowadays vital if you are planning to enter the work life anytime soon.

But, we shouldn’t give too clear instructions to people on the usage like “this is a shovel, you can dig a hole with it”. Instead we should be creating deeper understanding of which certain things you can use the technology and let people experiment by themselves and in groups to invent more ways – in other words, innovate and use their creativity. This can be achieved through coaching – something the too eager to manage managers should also notice.

I’ve gathered here a small list of skills, activities and some books of which you could be thinking of reading in unison to understand these things better. I’ve also included some web services which support the actions. These are just examples, don’t stare too much of them, but invent your own ones.

21st Century Skills, Knowledge  & Basics of Social Media

This is where it all begins. These are the cornerstones everyone should understand about our current era.

Trilling, B. & Fadel, C.: 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times

Peter F. Drucker: Management Challenges for the 21st Century

Erik Qualman: Socialnomics
Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody

Time & Task Management

Use the techniques [the ones that’ll suit you best] described in the books, support them with ubiquitous software.

David Allen: Getting Things Done
Timothy Ferris: The 4-hour workweek

Google Calendar & Tasks
Remember the Milk

Personal Branding

Chris Brogan, Julien Smith: Trust Agents
Chris Brogan: Social Media 101
Gary Vaynerchuk: Crush It!

Blog (for example WordPress)

Contact Management System

Readings & Network:
The Social Customer site



Of course I haven’t listed everything here, just some examples to get the idea. Also with the software, I tried to keep it more in the free ones so that one can easily jump to try them. Most likely different persons and businesses use different ones, for example check my older post about free and chargeable social media monitoring tools.

If you have something to contribute on this, books, software or whatever, please do so. I’d be glad to hear about them.