21st Century Skills (P21 and others)

Summary: Skills necessary for students to master in order for them to experience school and life success in an increasingly digital and connected age; includes digital literacy, traditional literacy, content knowledge, media literacy, and learning/innovation skills.

Originators & Proponents: Groups – United States Department of Education, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, MacArthur Foundation; Individuals – Henry Jenkins[1], Mimi Ito, John Seely Brown

Keywords: collaboration, digital literacy, innovation, technology, work-life skills, readiness, interdisciplinary learning, problem-solving, ICT (information and communication technologies)

21st Century Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills and other groups and individuals)

The 21st Century Skills initiative is an education standards and reform movement, located primarily in the United States, that is focused on improving what US public school students must learn in school so that they are better prepared to succeed in their school and career lives. The term “21st century skills” includes the following skill sets:

  • Life/career skills: adaptability & flexibility, initiative & self-direction, leadership & responsibility, productivity & accountability, social & cross-cultural skills
  • Core subjects: English/language arts, mathematics, arts, science, history, geography and others
  • 21st century themes: civic literacy, environmental literacy, financial  literacy (including economic, business, and entrepreneurial skills), global awareness, health literacy
  • Information/media/technology skills: media literacy, information literacy
  • Learning/innovation skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, problem solving

Students are expected to master these skills and understand these themes while learning core subject content in meaningful, interdisciplinary way. Teachers, administrators, schools, and districts are expected to use these guidelines, known as the P21 Framework, as a foundation for developing curriculum, assessments, and standards that they deem appropriate for their students.

Some organizations, like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, provide tools and resources for educators to use in supporting their students’ acquisition of these skills. In addition, there are also model classrooms, schools, and districts that can serve to guide others as they develop their alignment with these standards. Teachers are encouraged to create their own curriculum following the P21 Framework that would work best for their students.

For more information, see:


  1. Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009).Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Mit Press.