A 21st century education requires the development of cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, according to a recent report that seeks to define what is meant by buzzwords such as “deeper learning” and “21st century skills.”
Among those 21st century skills, researchers say, the most difficult to teach and to assess is the transfer of learning from one discipline to a new concept or idea.
The modern workplace and lifestyle demand that students balance cognitive, personal and interpersonal abilities, but current education policy discussions have not defined those abilities well, according to a special report released by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington.
A “who’s who” team of experts from the National Academies’ division of behavioral and social sciences and education and its boards on testing and on science education collaborated for more than a year on the report, intended to define just what researchers, educators and policymakers mean when they talk about “deeper learning” and “21st century skills.”
“Staying in school and completing degrees clearly have very strong effects,” said James W. Pellegrino, a co-editor of the report and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Americans get about 7 to 11 percent return in higher career earnings based on their years of schooling, “and cognitive skills don’t explain all the effects of schooling. Schooling is probably a proxy for some combination of different clusters of skills,” he said.
The committee found these 21st century skills generally fall into three categories:
- Cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning;
- Interpersonal skills, such as teamwork and complex communication; and
- Intrapersonal skills, such as resiliency and conscientiousness (the latter of which has also been strongly associated with good career earnings and healthy lifestyles).
Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who was not part of the report committee, said developing common definitions of 21st century skills is critical to current education policy discussions, such as around Common Core State Standards.
“Unless we want to have just a lot of hand-waving on 21st century skills,” Ms. Darling-Hammond said, “we need to get focused and purposeful on how to learn to teach and measure these skills, both in terms of research investments and in terms of the policies and practice that would allow us to develop and measure these skills.”
Ms. Darling-Hammond said she was pleased with the report’s recommendation to focus more research and resources on interpersonal skills such as complex communication and teamwork and intrapersonal skills such as resiliency and resourcefulness. “Those are the things that determine whether you make it through college, as much as your GPA or your skill level when you start college,” Ms. Darling-Hammond said.
“Putting that back on the table is a particularly useful thing; we have tended to de-emphasize those skills in an era in which we are focusing almost exclusively on testing, and a narrow area of testing.”
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