Knowledge Age skills

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Some views on Knowledge Age Skills

We should not involve ourselves in the ideas and language of the knowledge age without being aware of its contradictions:

"Rather than let a new age of business management principles and technologies set the tone for the whole of this knowledge society, I am suggesting that we would do well to demonstrate publicly the other side of this fascination with knowing. This is the side concerned with knowledge not solely as a form of work, but as a desire and a right to know; not entirely as a means of global competitiveness and dominance, but as an extension of educational opportunities; and not simply as a way of moving beyond the knowledge society, but as a responsibility to realize a cosmopolitan understanding of universal rights and acting on that understanding to effect a greater sense of community." John Willinsky (2005, p 111)

For example, the language and ideas of the knowledge age can allow us to gloss over the inequalities of global society. Consider the emphasis on adaptability, flexibility and the need to engage with change:

"If working people can be persuaded that ‘flexibility’ is an unavoidable feature of contemporary economies, they are more likely to be ‘flexible’ about their jobs disappearing, the need to retrain, deteriorating pay and conditions of work, and so forth." Norman Fairclough (1999, p 72)

Knowledge age skills are valuable skills but when we talk about them and think about them as a 'special' identifying component of our age we are being engaged in a political game...

"Education is not, at root, about the transmission of specific bodies of knowledge and skills. 
Rather,  it is about the development of understanding and the formation of minds and identities.
Minds that are robust enough and smart enough to engage with the uncertain demands of the future,
whatever they may be, and identities that are attuned to the changing communities of which they are members,
and able and willing to participate effectively and responsibly in their activities
and thus to contribute to, and benefit from, their transformation. 
Education, at this point in our history, we would argue, is centrally about the development of a mind to learn."
Gordon Wells and Guy Claxton (2002) Learning for Life in the 21st century, p2

Some categories of Knowledge Age Skills

Various commercial sources

There are a number of commercial websites (eg:;; that identify six Knowledge Age Skills:

• Communication skills

• Team skills

• Adaptability skills

• Computer skills

• Business skills

• Learning skills

Trilling and Hood 1999

Trilling and Hood (1999) identified seven knowledge age skills...The 7Cs

• Critical Thinking-and-Doing - Problem-solving, Research, Analysis, Project Management, etc.

• Creativity - New Knowledge Creation, "Best Fit" Design Solutions, Artful Storytelling, etc.

• Collaboration - Cooperation, Compromise, Consensus, Community-building, etc.

• Cross-cultural Understanding - Across Diverse Ethnic, Knowledge and Organizational Cultures

• Communication - Crafting Messages and Using Media Effectively

• Computing - Effective Use of Electronic Information and Knowledge Tools

• Career & Learning Self-reliance - Managing Change, Lifelong Learning and Career Redefinition

Trilling, B., & Hood, P. (2001). Learning, technology and education reform in the Knowledge Age or 'We're wired, webbed and windowed, now what?' In C. F. Paechter, R. Edwards, R. Harrison & P. Twining (Eds.), Learning, Space and Identity (pp. 7-30). London: SAGE.

[In Trilling (2003) these 7Cs are multiplied by the 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) to form 21st Century skills - 3Rs X 7Cs = 21st Century Skills]

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2002

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2002), in their report Learning for the 21st Century identify the following Learning skills for the knowledge age.

Information and Communication Skills

Information and Media Literacy Skills: Analysing, accessing, managing, intergrating, evaluating and creating information in a variety of forms and media. Undrestanding the role of media in society.

Communication Skills: Understanding, managing and creating effective oral, written and mulitimedia communication in a variety of forms and contexts

Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Critical Thinking and Systems Thinking: Exercising sound reasoning in understanding and making complex choices, understanding the interconnections among systems

Problem identification, formulation and solution: Ability to frame, analyse and solve problems.

Creativity and Intellectual Curiosity: Developing, implementing and communicating new ideas to others, staying open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives.

Interpersonal and Self-Directional Skills

Interpersonal and Collaborative Skills: Demonstrating teamwork and leadership; adapting to varied roles and responsibilities; working productively with others; exercising empathy; respecting diverse perspectives.

Self-Direction: Monitoring one’s own understanding and learning needs, locating appropriate resources, transfering learning from one domain to another.

Accountability and adaptability: Exercising personal responsibility and flexibility in personal, workplace and community contexts; setting and meeting high standards and goals for one’s self and others; tolerating ambiguity.

Social Responsibility: Acting responsibly with the intersests of the larger community in mind; demonstrating ethical behaviour in personal, workplace and community contexts.

:: [Comment from Fox. We don't seem to have any mention of learning skills, such as summarising, questioning, clarifying, predicting, reflecting...]

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2007 - the P21 Framework

Revised version of the 2002 framework (above) which is organised as a rainbow with three categories of kills built over core subjects and themes for the 21st Century:

  • Life and career skills
    • Creativity and innovation
    • Critical thinking and problem solving
    • Communication and collaboration
  • Information, media and technology skills
    • Information literacy
    • Media literacy
    • ICT Literacy
  • Learning and Innovation skills
    • Flexibility and adaptability
    • Initiative and self-direction
    • Social and cross-cultural skills
    • Productivity and accountability
    • Leadership and responsibility
  • Core subjects
    • English, reading or language arts
    • World languages
    • Arts
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Science
    • Geography
    • History
    • Government and Civics
  • The subjects should be learnt throug 21st Century themes
    • Global awareness
    • Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial literacy
    • Civic literacy
    • Health literacy

See the Partnership for 21st Century Skills website for more info

Stephen Downes: Nov 2011

Stephen suggests in OL Daily that skills such as communicating, collaborating and problem solving are 20th-century skills, and that the new skills we need include:

  • emergent thinking: extracting patterns, rules, regularities, prototypes
  • sensing value - finding meaning, truth, relevance, purpose, goals
  • acting semiotically - using signs, signals, art, desig, etc., to do things
  • seeing beyond - describing, defining, drawing conclusions, explaining data
  • ecological sensitivity - placing in context, seeing frames, making meaning
  • living in change - understanding flow, adaptation, progression

Assessing knowledge age skills

The table below sets out the 'Knowledge Age skills' that we are focussing on - with initial indicators of what different levels of competence might look like ... You can see we are still working on this (and any suggestions you have would be much appreciated).

How about

  • time management
  • flexibility - the ability to adapt to a situation and learn new skills
  • empathy - the ability to understand and react to the feelings of those around you
  • responsibility - being aware that your actions have consequences in terms of people and resources
  • self knowledge - awareness of one's own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs Fox

Suggested in the Forum: problem solving, lateral thinking, time management, goal setting and group organization.

See also International Society for Technology in Education's National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S):

The Knowledge Age Skills Framework

Skill Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4


Projects personal characteristics

Receives messages from others, shares goals
Develops processes

Values others, understands roles and changes in roles

Joint problem-solves
Manages relationships

(from QCA level descriptors)

Selects and uses structures, styles and registers appropriately in a range of contexts. ‘Listens’ with concentration and understanding

Adapts communication for a range of settings and audiences

Makes a range of contribution, demonstrating perceptive listening

Takes a leading role, initiating and sustaining conversation, and reflecting understanding


Understands and sets greater goals and purposes

Sets examples, explains

Recognises skills of peers

Applies own and others’ skills productively


Questions and challenges

Makes connections, sees relationships

Envisages what things might be

Reflects critically on ideas and practice


Participates when encouraged to do so. Engages in activities organised by others.

Suggests new activities unprompted; voluntarily takes some role in organising activities.

Takes the initiative and organises activities in which others can participate.

Takes responsibility for motivating others.


Works on small projects, responds to the advice of others.

Initiates their own projects. Offers opinions and advice.

Responds to challenges; engages in debate

Works to improve the confidence of others, while maintaining their own.

Problem solving

Identifies problems and invites solutions.

Proposes solutions to their own problems and those of others.

Works to develop solutions to problems.

Identifies deep-rooted or long-term problems and works with others to solve these.


Fairclough, N. (1999) Global Capitalism and Critical Awareness of Language, Language Awareness, 8, 2, 71–83 - accessed at on 12 October 2007

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2002), Learning for the 21st Century, accessed at on 08 October 2007

Trilling, B., & Hood, P. (1999). Learning Technology and Education Reform in the Knowledge Age or "We're Wired, Webbed and Windowed, Now What?" Educational Technology, 39, 3, 5-18. accessed at on 08 October 2007

Trilling, B. (2003) The Once and Future Kingdom of Learning Accessed at: on 08 October 2007

Willinsky, J. (2005) Just say know? Schooling the knowledge society, Educational Theory, 55, 1, 97-111 accessed at: on 12 october 2007

Useful links

The QCA PLTS framework - provides descriptors for six groups of personal, learning and thinking skills (for 11 to 19 year olds) [1]

Futurelab's report on 'knowledge age skills' frameworks - The QCA Personal Skills and Competencies Review [2] - which provides a great summary of a range of different frameworks for 'knowledge age skills'
Download the full report