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This article aims to define the 21st-century skills used in education and the 21st-century work field by comparing several research papers and books from the past ten years.

21st century skills

In the current times, 21st-century skills development has become part of many curricula of higher education and many universities and colleges teach in a 21st-skills manner as well. Although there is no one definition of 21st-century skills, several researchers have done an effort to define the skills that would be considered 21st-century skills. Skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration, innovation, flexibility, and self-management have become increasingly more important to be successful in both personal and professional life (Bialik et al., 2015; Global Partnership For Education, 2020; Kulman et al., 2014; Loshkareva et al., 2017; Trilling & Fadel, 2012).

21st century according to Trilling & Fadel (2012).

Trilling & Fadel (2012) categorized 21st-century skills into three main categories; learning & innovation skills, digital literacy skills, and life, and career skills.

Learning & Innovation skills

Learning & innovation skills are defined by the skills that help an individual collaborate with others and create new things. The skills in this domain are focussed on critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creation, collaboration and communication.

Digital Literacy skills

Digital literacy skills encompass the skills that help an individual understand and categorize information, how to define the worth and value of media and how to work and enhance ICT and tech.

Life and Career skills

Life and career skills encompass the skills needed to survive and thrive in the outside world, be it professional and personal. The skills in this domain are focussed on flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural interaction, productivity and accountablity, leadership and responsibility.

21st century according to Bialik (2015).

Bialik (2015) defines 21st-century skills while focussing on the 4 c’s; creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and defines other important skills in education seperatly from these.

Creativity includes a range of skills, such as, scientific thinking, entrepeneurship, design thinking, mathematics, innovation and, creative problem solving

Critical thinking
Critical thinking has been defined as analyzing, applying, conceptualising, synthesizing, evaluation, reflection, and reasoning based on questioning things instead of taking information at face value.

Communication skills have been defined as skills such as writing and reading, but also encompasses skills such as negotiation, giving instructions, advising, building relationships, conflict management, teaching taking responsibility.


Collaboration encompasses teamwork and working together to come up with solutions, taking other peoples perspectives into account, working towards a common goal. 

Other skills

Information- and media literacy, ICT Literacy (tech and how to use it), life and career skills, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility

21st century according to Loshkarevo et. al. (2017).

Loshkarevo (2017) categorized 21st-century skills into four main categories; context-specific skills; cross- contextual skills, meta-skills, and existential skills. Where context-specific skills are easy to learn, meta- and existential skills take decades to a lifetime to develop.

Context specific skills

The context specific skills are the professional skills required by the workfiel, such as programming, physical skills or social skills. These skills are applied in a specific context.

Cross contextual skills

The cross contextual skills are the skills applied in a larger domain of social or personal activities, such as reading, writing, time management skills, teamwork etc.

Meta skills

The meta- skills are the different modes of operating objexts in the mind or in the physical world. These can be seen as psychomotor skills and interpersonal skills.

Existential skills

The existential skills can be applied universally and ecompass the ability to set goals and achieve them, self-awareness/self-reflection (meta knowledge) and the ability to learn/unlearn/re-learn.

When looking specifically at education, Loshkarevo (2017) described the nescesary skills for the future as emotional intelligence (empathy), media- and information literacy, awareness and ability to manage attention (flexibility), ecological thinking, creativity, problem solving, cooperation, co-creation, critical thinking and goal-setting.

21st century skills according to the Global Partnership for Education (2020).

The Global Partnership for education stated that 21st-century skills are skills, abilities, and attributes that are taught or learned to enhance learning, working, living, and thinking in the world. Under 21st-century skills, they define skills based on Brinkleys (2014) definition of 21st-century skills into four categories based on research led by the Unversity of Melbourne (UNESCO, 2015) after having compared several sources.

Ways of thinking

Creativity and Innovation, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, learning to learn and meta-cognition.

Ways of working

These skills define ways of working for people, such as communication and collaboration skills

Tools for working

The tools people need to do their work are defined by information and ICT literacy

Living in the world

These are the skills people need to live in an everchanging and volatile world, such as citizenship, life and career skills, personal and social responsibility (including cultural awareness and competence).

Defining 21st century skills

Based on the literature research done in the previous chapter a table has been developed to easily categorize the 21st-century skills with the aim of defining which skills are important skills for the future (Table 1).

21st century skills(Trilling & Fadel, 2012)(Bialik et al., 2015)(Loshkareva et al., 2017)(Global Partnership For Education, 2020)
Critical thinkingxxxx
Problem solvingxxxx
Information Literacyxxxx
Media Literacyxx  
ICT Literacyxxxx
Flexibility & adaptabilityxxxx
Initiative & self-directionxxxx
Social interactionxxxx
Productivity & accountabilityxxxx
Leadership & responsibilityxxxx
Life- and career skills xxx
Emotional Intelligence (cultural awareness)  xx
Citizenship  xx
Table 1: Defining 21st-century skills based on literature research

Though each of these frameworks shows unique categories or slightly different wordings, they all encompass a similar array of skills that would be defined under the name of 21st-century skills. As stated in other research, 21st-century skills are always developing and following trends in the world, this could suggest the additions of emotional intelligence and citizenship from 2017 and onwards, but even the addition of life and career skills in 2015. In comparison to previous years, media literacy has disappeared from the list of required 21st-century skills, possibly due to the blending of information literacy into Media Information Literacy (Reineck & Lublinski, 2015; Stocchetti, 2016).

Odette Jansen

Odette Jansen

Autism Coach | Teacher | Dungeon Delver