Why it Matters

Today’s school leaders face a serious dilemma: Communities expect their graduates to be ready to thrive in the Digital Age, but the 21st century skills such success requires are not well defined. Nor are those skills included in many state learning standards or measured on most state and local assessments.

The current era of high-stakes testing will have a positive impact on students only if we get the metrics right. Without 21st century skills, students are being prepared to succeed in yesterday’s world – not tomorrow’s.

Schools must do more to keep pace with rapid technology, research, and societal changes. To ensure that students will be ready to thrive in today’s knowledge-based, global society, three significant things need to occur:

  • The public must acknowledge 21st century skills as essential to the education of today’s learner

  • Schools must embrace new designs for learning based on emerging research about: how people learn, effective uses of technology, and 21st century skills in the context of rigorous academic content

  • Policymakers must base school accountability on assessments that measure both academic achievement and 21st century skills

Experts at the U.S. Department of Labor said it best: “We are living in a new economy – powered by technology, fueled by information, and driven by knowledge.” Because of this, they assert, “the influence of technology will go beyond new equipment and faster communications, as work and skills will be redefined and reorganized”

Given the rapid diffusion of technology over the past 30 years, many analysts have also considered technological change to be a major factor in determining wages.Even in non-IT industries, most analysts agree that technologically skilled workers are likely to earn higher wages than those without such skills.Even economists who find it “difficult to identify the role of technological change in recent wage trends,” such as the analysts at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), agree with this.

So experts agree: education – when it means developing the skills needed to live, learn, and work successfully in the Digital Age – does pay, especially in an information-based economy (Mandel, 2002). And it will continue to pay, according to others. The CEO Forum advised that, “Students require higher levels of education to succeed in the new knowledge-based economy. Today, 85 percent of jobs require education beyond high school, compared to 61 percent in 1991”

Technology influences learning in three significant ways. A synthesis of recent research and national skill sets shows that it is a driver of change, a bridge to academic excellence, and a platform for informed decision-making and accountability:

  • A Driver for Change: The 21st Century Skills Technology has catapulted us into a knowledge-based, global society. It is clear that success in this society will require significantly different skills than in the past .

  • A Bridge to High Academic Achievement Technology serves as a bridge to more engaged, relevant, meaningful, and personalized learning – all of which lead to higher academic achievement. Research shows that when technology is used appropriately, children learn more, even as measured by conventional tests

  • A Platform for Informed Decision-Making and Accountability Technology provides a platform for more informed decision-making using timely, meaningful data to shape learning opportunities. This translates into more personalized learning based on continuous feedback available to students, teachers, and parents.
“ The sheer magnitude of human knowledge, globalization, and the accelerating rate of change due to technology necessitate a shift in our children’s education from plateaus of knowing to continuous cycles of learning. ”


“ To meet the demands of our global economy… there must be corresponding adaptations in our educational environments to develop 21st century skills. ”

--CEO Forum (2001: p. 9)


The following skill clusters, when considered within the context of rigorous academic standards, are intended to provide the public, business and industry, and educators with a common understanding of – and language for discussing – what is needed by students, citizens, and workers in the Digital Age.

Digital-Age Literacy

  • Basic, scientific, economic, and technological literacies.
  • Visual and information literacies.
  • Multicultural literacy and global awareness.

Inventive Thinking

  • Adaptability/managing complexity.
  • Self-direction
  • Curiosity, creativity, and risk-taking
  • Higher-order thinking and sound reasoning

Effective Communication

  • Teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills.
  • Personal, social, and civic responsibility
  • Interactive communication

High Productivity & Quality, State-of-the-Art Results

  • Ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results.
  • Effective use of real-world tools
  • The ability to create relevant, high-quality products
“ No one believes that when the bell rings at the end of the school day, children stop learning. Curiosity bubbles inside the minds of children from the moment they wake in the morning to when they go to bed at night. ”


“ Our challenge is to encourage, connect, and foster learning throughout a child’s day.”

Adapted from " enGauge 21st Century Skills Literacy in the Digital Age " by Metiri Group