I made reference to this excellent National Research Council report just last week, explaining how I drew upon it for my “explorations of the 21st century learning landscape” presentation. But that was just a glancing reference to it, really; now, in a short series of posts over the next few days, I want to pull out and share some key pieces of this report.
As valuable as this 204 page report it, it is not entirely easy reading, and surely some who are reading this are not likely to get to it anytime soon. Its value is multi-faceted; first, because of its comprehensively broad survey of the educational priorities and methods required for successfully preparing students for the coming decades, and second, because its imprimatur from the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, makes it impossible to dismiss as the wild-eyed ideas of a partisan progressive radical.
Among its priorities are establishing the critical competencies– defining them by citing a 2005 OECD PISA report, which defines competencies as being
…more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context.
This report reviews the many which came before it, citing one which reviewed 59 in total, finding that the most commonly cited 21st century skills were “collaboration, communication, information and communications technology (ICT) literacy, and social or cultural competencies.”
Taking a slight tangent, the authors here very usefully surface a never-ending issue around the identification, listing and taxonomy of such 21st century skills: how do we separate these out from each other, when so many overlap so greatly. They call this the Jangle fallacy– a term previously unfamiliar to me but which I’m so glad to have in my vocabulary. It is when “investigators sometimes used different measures—with different names–to study a single psychological construct or competency.” Examples abound, such as collaboration and teamwork, or flexibility and adaptability: are these different competencies, or are we jangling here? The problem is more important when you get to this issue: perhaps “separate measures of self-esteem, neuroticism, locus of control, and generalized self-efficacy were in fact focusing on a single core construct?”
Hence, the NRC report creates separate tiers for their taxonomy of the essential competencies, beginning with a big three set of bubble which are certainly distinguishable, dropping down to a second tier of critical components of each of the big three bubbles, and then sprinkling the bubbles with a dozen or more individual terms which are increasingly hard to distinguish altogether.
If you’re curious about which of the many non-cog competencies is singularly most important, by their research, here is your answer:
Among intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies, conscientiousness (a tendency to be organized, responsible, and hardworking) is most highly correlated with desirable outcomes in education and the workplace. Anti-social behavior, which has both intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions, is negatively correlated with these outcomes.
Hardly surprising–and not too terribly illuminating, because in and of itself, it doesn’t seem to easy to teach or develop directly. (But see the Chicago report, “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners” for more guidance on this.
So what is the point of educating for these competencies, anyway? Why are they so important, if we are educating for life and work?
The committee views the broad call for “21st century skills” as reflecting a long-standing issue in education and training – the desire that individuals develop transferable knowledge and skills.
Associated with this is the challenge of creating learning environments that support development of the cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal competencies that enable learners to transfer what they have learned to new situations and new problems. These competencies include both knowledge in a domain and knowledge of how, why, and when to apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems—integrated forms of knowledge that we refer to as “21st century competencies” and discuss further below.
Now, if our students will have little need to “transfer what they have learned to new situations and new problems,” then there is no need to develop these capacities. But, as we know, routine work is no longer routine.
So for nonroutine work, these competencies are more essential. (more…)