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21st Century Skills For Dummies

by Tom Bittman  |  January 30, 2009  |  7 Comments

21st century skills have been a hot topic in the world of education, and there is an overwhelming amount of 21st century skill information on the web. However, it’s not easy for every education professional to absorb what it means to them and their district.

bincloud2While many core skills haven’t changed, some are becoming more critical, and other skills are new for the 21st century. The world has been changing, in two discontinuous ways, since the early 1990s:

  1. The world is more connected, flatter, and moving faster.
    Technology evolution, a maturing world economy, dynamic teaming and collaboration. Windows of opportunity are getting smaller as news flows faster. Reaction time is a critical differentiator.
  2. Information is growing rapidly – and all can contribute.
    Information is exploding – but some is accurate, some is not, some are opinions, some are lies, some are personal expressions. Information in the new world is not static – it is interactive and dynamic.

So based on these changes, what are the new and growing skills required in the 21st century? For the benefit of my own school district – and anyone trying to get their arms around the fundamentals – I’ve narrowed the list to seven key skills:

Technology Skills

  1. Information Literacy: Navigating, interpreting and effectively using the explosion of information available to us is critical in the 21st century.
  2. Media Literacy: IM streams, blogs, streaming video, web conferences – information is being channeled through ever-changing media. The ability to navigate and interpret those media in context, as well as the ability to use those media effectively to communicate are critical skills.
  3. Information Technology Literacy: The tools that we use to create or access media that contain information are constantly evolving. Understanding exactly which tools to use, and when, in a constantly evolving tools environment is a critical skill.

People Skills

  1. Global Literacy: The world is more connected, and insularity is not an option. Awareness, social and cross-cultural skills are valuable.
  2. Flexibility & Adaptability: The world has always been changing, but change happens – and is communicated – faster. Agility is critical in the 21st century.
  3. High-Level Knowledge Skills: In a flat world, lower-level skills are a commodity. Critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and innovation are valuable.
  4. Communication & Collaboration: A connected world requires better communication skills, and the ability to dynamically team to accomplish tasks.

Want to dive deeper? I’d recommend the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. And my colleague Daryl Plummer’s post on 20th century thinking. And, of course, my own thoughts on the impact of the web, social software and cloud computing on education. Good luck, and I’d love comments!

Additional Resources

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Category: agility  cloud  education  

Tags: cloud-computing  education  

Thomas J. Bittman
VP Distinguished Analyst
20 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Thomas Bittman is a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research. Mr. Bittman has led the industry in areas such as private cloud computing and virtualization. Mr. Bittman invented the term "real-time infrastructure," which has been adopted by major vendors and many… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on 21st Century Skills For Dummies

  1. Daryl Plummer says:

    Tom. I would love for you to link to my blog post on 20th century thinking vesus 21st century thinking. I think the issues you raise are reasons for why I see this shift.

  2. Tom Bittman says:

    Good add, Daryl. Linked.

  3. Enjoyed reading your posting but wouldn’t agree that information literacy is a technology skill. It is more than the use of technology. It involves the use of information in all formats electronic, paper and people. it also involves High-Level Knowledge Skills and Communication & Collaboration which you have under people skills.

  4. Tom Bittman says:

    Excellent, Christine. Yes, agree completely. My attempt to categorize and simplify went a bit too far. You bring up a key point (and yes, I will go check out your website).

    Maybe I am talking about effectively assimiliating newer forms of information that are coming in through a technology medium. And that is so critical. It spans both existing and new/emerging forms of content. I focused on the new/emerging – but I’ve also seen digital natives who are blind to non-digital information (if it isn’t in Google, it doesn’t exist). It goes beyond engaging all of our senses (can’t smell digital information yet). Effective information literacy spanning all forms of information and all media are what I’m talking about. Maybe there is an analogy here where digital information add to our five sense?…

    On the overlap between these – agree and it is inevitable.

    Thanks – will check out your site. And adjust my verbage.


  5. […] 21st Century Skills For Dummies – Etiquetas: [trends] […]

  6. […] Thomas J. Bittman, VP Distinguished Analyst, Gartner Inc, has identified seven skills as below in his blog Skills for 21st century […]

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