PIDP 3100 – 21st Century Competencies

In Chapter 1 of Merriam & Bierma’s “Adult Learning – putting theory to practice”, the concepts of Adult Learning in the 21st century are explored. Topics such as; the social context of Adult Learning, Globalization, The Knowledge Society, Technology, Changing Demographics, The Adult Learner, and Participation in Adult Learning are covered. As an extension of the Knowledge Society topic, the focus of this journal post is 21st century competencies.

21st Century Competencies

The “Knowledge Society”, which has replaced the industrial society, has implications for global learning and educational systems.  Knowledge is directly correlated to economic activity. National education systems must adapt to this economic reality if they are to remain prosperous.

According to Dumont and Istance (2010), the 21 century competencies are:

  • Deep understanding
  • Flexibility
  • Capacity to make creative connections
  • Good team-working

Deep Understanding

Knowledge is cheap, wisdom is priceless             Jay Deragon 2013

The anytime/anywhere access to the internet to get information has benefits, both positive and negative. The market is being spoon fed knowledge by using search engines. However, as Deragon points out, knowledge cannot be found in the dictionary or Google.  It must be learned.

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Hamstring stretch diagramCognitive flexibility is the human ability to adapt the cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions in the environment (Cañas, Quesada, Antolí and Fajardo, 2003).

Cognitive flexibility is the mental ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and to think about multiple concepts simultaneously.

In our information world, sometimes concepts contradict one another. One must have the flexibility to think critically and make decisions about the multiple concepts.

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Capacity to Make Creative Connections

Being a good thinker requires a wide range of skills, sensitivities and values. Thinking also involves being able to make creative connections between different areas of knowledge.

In the book “Rethinking Secondary Education” (Gill & Thomson 2013), it is stated “The capacity to make creative connections between different areas of knowledge can generate new understanding for the learner.”  For example the study of optics and graphic design can be inter-related creatively.

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Thus it can be seen that in order to have a capacity for creative connections, one must be a good thinker, be literate (usually a person who cannot read, listen, write and speak well also cannot think well), be knowledgeable in multiple disciplines, and have the capacity to combine knowledge and skills from the multiple disciplines. For instance technical expertise and writing skills combined to write a book.


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Increasingly, work is being done as a committee or in groups.  A necessary skill is to be able to work with your group and the results for the greater good. Teamwork requires a positive attitude, critical thinking, sensitivity, good judgement, and other soft skills.


In the modern working and learning world, one needs to understand the concepts, and be flexible, creative, and work well on a team.

Technology and education are making information available to everyone, but the caveat is that there is a lot of information and misinformation on the Internet, be careful.


Adult Learning – Linking Theory and Practice – (Merriam and Bierma, Jossey-Bass 2014)

The Nature of Learning:Using Research to Inspire Practice  Dumont, H. & Istance, D. (Organization for Economic Co-operative Development 2010)

Rethinking Secondary Education: A Human-Centered Approach” (Scherto Gill, Garrett Thomson, Routledge 2013 p. 49)



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