Building 21st Century Skills for all Learners

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Employers continue to complain that college graduates do not have the 21st-century-skills they need.

Through this presentation, participants will be able:

1. Utilize a competency framework to evaluate students’ 21st-century-skills

2. Identify the value of digital micro-credentials

3. Explore how their institution can begin addressing these high need skills

Extended Abstract


Everyone wants them. No one has them.

The 2019 Chronicle of Higher Education report Responding to Work-force Needs: Views on how colleges can partner with employers to teach student 21st-century skills identifies soft-skills “as the power skills of human interaction—interpersonal and communication skills, adaptability, collaboration, creativity, and emotional intelligence” (p. 2).

The basis of the report is the “massive skills gap” (p. 21) between the skills employers expect their new hires—especially college graduates—to possess and the skills these new hires actually possess.

In turn, institutes of higher education are increasingly attempting to address the recognized gap between the soft-skills employers demand and the soft-skills college graduates demonstrate by embedding development of such skills within existing curriculum (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2019).

However, institutes of higher education continue to struggle to effectively adjust learning experiences to accommodate the inculcation of non-content-related objectives into their curricula (Murugiah, 2020).

In turn, soft-skills add-on training programs are frequently used to compliment  standard content-based education. These programs are frequently self-paced, individualized learning experiences meant to help that learner develop that skill. While add-on programs often utilize simulations for the purposes of helping learners apply their knowledge, the experience is still largely between the individual learning the skill and the computer program teaching the skill

There are at least two major problems with these approaches:

      1. Soft-skills are best developed within specific content domains (Hirsh, 2016).

      2. Soft-skills are best developed in the context of experiential learning (Stalp & Hill, 2019).

For example, there is a great difference between a learning experience that teaches students something about collaboration and creativity and a learning experience that is itself based on collaboration and creativity. 

Recognizing these challenges, Education Design Lab partners with a variety of colleges, universities, and training programs to create a compelling learning experience to develop 21st century skills within the context of their institution and their individual fields of study.

Education Design Lab’s 21st Century Skills Digital Micro-credentials, delivery platform called vsbl is an active, asynchronous, flexible, experiential learning experience that includes modules for the 8 broad competencies of collaboration, critical thinking, oral communication, creative problem solving, initiative, resilience, empathy, and intercultural fluency, which are comprised of 23 sub-competencies.  Pretzl has been integrated to cultivate community within the online environment, in a way that is dynamic, visually appealing, and learner-focused.  

Specifically, the learning experiences are designed to identify discrete skills such as “Identify Patterns” for Critical Thinking. Leveraging their partnership with Pretzl--an online discussion platform aimed at helping learners develop 21st skills through discussion--these programs combine learning, practice, contribution and unique assessments called proving grounds to make the learning process transparent, explicit, and portable to the learner. Through the use of the performanced-based proving grounds, which include detailed skill rubrics, learners demonstrate the required skills that can then be used as a signal of candidate abilities to employers. The award of digital credentials makes the learner digitally discoverable and serves as a means of expressing and validating the gained skills and sharing of accomplishment. 

To date, 415 students from one badge issuing platform (Credly) have successfully earned digital badges across 14 institutions. Other programs and partnerships have provided hundreds of additional digital badges by using Education Design Lab content and framework.

This presentation will provide examples and showcase the individual and combined successes of fostering the 21st century skills through the unique partnership between education providers Education Design Lab and Pretzl.  

Through this presentation, participants will be able:

1. Generate ideas for creating strategic partnerships to solve diverse challenges

2. Familiarize themselves with a competency framework for evaluating 21st century skills in their learners

3. Identify the value of digital micro-credentials

4. Explore the way their institution might begin to address these high need skills