The National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress to provide unbiased expert advice on matters of public policy, released a report, funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, entitled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century.

Key Findings

  • Validates an educational approach called “deeper learning,” which emphasizes critical reasoning and a suite of other skills. Defines deeper learning as students’ ability to take the knowledge and skills they learn in one situation and apply it to a new situation.
  • Clarifies and organizes the concepts that make up 21st  century “competencies” – a term that has been called many different things and defined in a variety of ways. The report groups these skills into three clusters: cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal, including key competencies such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and teamwork, and learning to learn.
  • Underscores that content knowledge provides a foundation for transferable 21st  century competencies; skills and content are not only intertwined but also reinforce each other.
  • Explains that 21st century competencies allow students to master rigorous academic content as well as learn how, why, and when to apply knowledge to answer questions and solve problems.

Calls to Action

  • Urges states and the federal government to establish policies and programs in support of students’ acquisition of these skills. It says policymakers should focus their attention on assessing student mastery of them, assuring that teachers are accountable for their acquisition, developing curriculum and materials, and providing teacher education.
  • Calls on foundations and federal agencies to fund greater research to better understand effective teaching and assessment strategies as well as the relationship between these skills and successful outcomes in adult life, such as employability and participation in civic life.

Connection to Excellence and Equity

  • As states develop new assessments and implement standards that provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce, known as the Common Core State Standards, it will be critical for them to “devote significant attention” to the deeper learning and 21st century competencies called for by the standards.
  • Placing more focus on deeper learning and 21st century competencies in school and out-of-school programs could reduce disparities in educational attainment. Reducing these disparities would prepare more young people to enjoy the positive outcomes of more education, including greater success in the workplace, improved health, and greater civic participation.

What’s Next for the Hewlett Foundation?

As a result of this report, Hewlett will double down on its investment in deeper learning and continue to support the development of curriculum and assessment strategies that promote and evaluate these critical outcomes. To succeed in a fiercely competitive and complex global economy, students must be able to apply their knowledge and knowhow to solve real world challenges.

Media Contact:
Jack Fischer, Communications Officer