Exploring the concept of 21st century skills: a review of the literature

By Yaw Bimpeh, Sheradan Miller


A move towards a knowledge economy has led to a shift in the skills needed in today’s workforce. As AQA explores vocational qualifications and prepares for specification reform, it is an opportune time to think about how we integrate skills-based learning into our assessments. In this report, we explore the concept of 21st century skills.

There have been many attempts to define and systemise the 21st century skill set into frameworks. We focused upon six frameworks that were either most commonly cited in the literature or were UK specific in their design and implementation. We found from comparing and analysing these frameworks that the six most-cited 21st century skills were collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, digital literacy and problem solving.

Having identified the skills, we considered them from three perspectives: how each is defined in the literature; how each is taught in the classroom; and how each is assessed. As we explored the research, we found specific teaching styles and examples of assessments for each of these skills, most of which included a performance-based element.

Twenty-first century skills continue to be a lively point of discussion in education and policy. How we choose to teach and assess each of these skills brings its own challenges and considerations, with each skill requiring its own definition and assessment instrument. A key theme that emerged from the literature is the complexity of separating these skills for teaching and assessment.


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