21st Century Skills and Digital Citizenship


Arooj Arslan

Arooj Arslan (aroojarslan@hotmail.com)
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


Global Competencies are the skills and attitudes that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. The six Global Competencies are Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity & Innovation, Self-directed Learning and Citizenship (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p.56). This chapter briefly defines the Global Competencies and then provides some research-based evidence to support incorporating the Global Competencies in education. The major portion of this chapter is dedicated to identifying technology tools that can be used in K-12 classrooms to support the Global Competencies. The appendix contains links to the current frameworks developed by a few School Boards in Ontario to incorporate the Global Competencies in education.

Keywords: Global Competencies, critical thinking, and problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, self-directed learning, citizenship, technology tools


Global Competencies are the competencies that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. The Global Competencies (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p.56) have been outlined below:

  1. Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is defined as the ability to use different resources to solve problems and make decisions (Fullan, 2013, p.9). Critical thinking requires the use of higher order thinking skills, analogous to the top tiers of Bloom’s taxonomy.
  2. Communication: In the 21st century, communication is a versatile skill that includes effective verbal, written and digital communication. Communication also covers listening skills (Fullan, 2013, p.9).
  3. Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the ability of students to work and learn with others in versatile group settings. According to Fullan, “empathy in working with diverse others” (2013, p.9) is an essential component of collaboration in the 21st century.
  4. Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: A high value is associated with creativity and innovation in the 21st century. It is important to teach our students to innovate, create and mobilize ideas, concepts and opportunities that have not been explored before.
  5. Self-directed Learning: Motivation, perseverance, and self-regulation are traits that need to be instilled in 21st-century learners. Learners need to believe in their ability to learn and grow, and to have a growth mindset (Dweck, 2016). Reflective thinking and metacognition are key tools to use to develop this skillset.
  6. Citizenship: In the 21st century, the meaning of citizenship incorporates local, global and digital citizenship. Learners should be able to understand and participate in addressing key local and global political, social and economic issues.

Background Information

A competency is defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as “the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilising psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context” (2003, p.4). A competency is thus a broad term that encompasses knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ethical values.

Why Explicitly Teach the Global Competencies

Wagner has stated that in the 21st century, “what you know is less important than what you can do with what you know” (Fullan, 2013, p.24). With rapid changes in the opportunities in the world today, it is essential to prepare our students for the future by making them more confident and self-directed learners. In their publication, Fullan and Langworthy have referred to a Gallup survey that states “43% of all fifth through 12th graders said they hoped to launch their own business someday, yet only 7% claimed to have any experience that would help them prepare for this” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014). The intent behind focussing on the Global Competencies is to move educational experiences towards deep learning, which Fullan and Langworthy have defined as “creating and using new knowledge in the world” (2014, p.7). Scott has cited Saavedra and Opfer’s argument on twenty-first-century competencies that “learners do not develop these competencies and skills unless they are explicitly taught” (2015, p.2).

How School Boards in Ontario have Incorporated Global Competencies

Fullan’s “6 Cs”, the International Society for Technology in Education Standards (ISTE, 2015) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21, 2009) are a few of the many resources that School Boards in Ontario have used to create frameworks to incorporate the 21st Century Competencies in their strategic plans. A few of the implementation documents are listed in Appendix A.

Technologies to Support the Global Competencies

This section aims to explain how the Global Competencies can be effectively integrated in classrooms through the use of technology.

Simulation Tools for Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

With vast amounts of information available on the internet, it is becoming more important to be familiar with the big ideas and application of learning in real-world scenarios. Snyder and Snyder have stated that “it is the application of the content that stimulates thinking” (2008, p.91). Gizmos (Explore Learning, n.d.) and PhET (University of Colorado Boulder, n.d.) are useful tools to help learners apply their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Social Media for Communication

According to McLoughlin and Lee (2008), social media is an effective tool to encourage communication. Blogs, web pages, comments, and posts are all forms of communication and can be used to leverage learning. According to the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1961), people learn by observing others. Social media networking sites such as Twitter (Twitter, n.d.),  Instagram (Instagram, n.d.) and YouTube (YouTube, n.d.) are ideal for social learning. In addition to learning core concepts, students learn the communication norms and netiquette simply by observing and imitating others on these platforms.

Digital Tools for Collaboration

Prensky (2010) has stated that students find group work and discussion as the most engaging activities in their classrooms. According to Tapscott (2009), collaboration is one of the eight Net Generation norms. Peer conferences and think-pair-share are some ways in which students can share ideas and learn with each other. Sharing ideas on FlipGrid (FlipGrid, n.d.) and Google Classroom (Google Classroom, n.d.) can facilitate conversations in smaller groups or as one large group. Tapscott (2009) states that the Net Generation learners are quick and willing to ask for ideas, share information and provide feedback online. Wiggins (2012) has stated that among other things, feedback should be timely, ongoing and consistent in order to be useful. The comments sections in Google Docs (Google Docs, n.d.) and Google Slides (Google Slides, n.d.) can be used to give real-time peer or feedback to learners. Google Classroom (Google Classroom, n.d.) can also be used to provide teacher feedback in a timely, ongoing manner.

Coding and Gaming for Creativity and Innovation

Martinez and Stager described constructionism as “learning by constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014). Makerspaces stem from the same idea and are essential components of 21st-century learning environments. They help to create a place for learners to use their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to innovate and invent. Programs such as Scratch (Lifelong Kindergarten Group-MIT Media Lab, n.d.) and Blockly (Google Developers, n.d.) simplify coding for elementary students. The Makey Makey (MIT Media Lab, n.d.) kits and robotics kits such as Lego Mindstorms (Lego, n.d.) can be used effectively for innovation in Makerspaces (Hughes, 2017). According to Tapscott, “for net geners, work should be fun. Net Geners see no clear dividing line between the two” (2009, p. 92). Encouraging collaboration and creativity in learning tasks also increases engagement. Game-based learning, with tools such as Kahoot (Kahoot, n.d.), is ideal for engaging students.

Digital Tools for Self-Directed Learning

For effective learning to take place, students must be able to identify learning opportunities, create deep contextual frameworks and reflect on their learning (Donovan et al., 2002, p. 13).

The G-Suite for tracking learning goals. According to Donovan, effective learning requires acknowledging preconceptions and misconceptions, and using that as a basis for new learning. (Donovan et al., 2002, p. 10). Questions on Google Classroom (Google Classroom, n.d.) can help learners identify preconceptions and misconceptions about a new concept through teacher and peer feedback. Tools such as Google Keep (Google Keep, n.d.) and Google Sheets (Google Sheets, n.d.) can be used by learners to track and plot their learning goals. Learning logs and reflective journals can be useful to help students identify how their new learning connects to their prior knowledge. Blogger (Blogger, n.d.) and Google Sites (Google Sites, n.d.) can be used to elaborate, consolidate and reflect on learning.

Tools for higher order thinking. For effective learning, learners need to develop a deeper conceptual framework that allows the facts to be easily retrievable (Donovan et al., 2002, p. 12). Mind maps can serve as powerful tools to create the deep conceptual framework that Donovan et al. recommended (2002, p. 12). Mindomo (Mindomo, n.d.), Mindmup (Sauf Pompiers Ltd, n.d.), and Popplet (Popplet, n.d.) are useful apps that can be used to help the students create concept maps. Infographics are another good way to create a deeper conceptual understanding and to synthesize learning. Canva (Canva, n.d.) and Piktochart (Malaysia Incorporated Company, n.d.) are great tools to use for creating posters and infographics.

Digital Tools to Teach Citizenship

Prensky has stated that “Real learning involves students immediately using what they learn to do something and/or change something in the world” (2010, p. 20). Social media, such as YouTube (YouTube, n.d.) and Twitter (Twitter, n.d.) are excellent tools to integrate real-world application. Flipgrid (Flipgrid, n.d.), Google Classroom (Google Classroom, n.d.), and Google Hangouts (Google Hangouts, n.d.) can be used effectively to encourage local and global citizenship.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

It is important to keep in mind that the Global Competencies are skill-sets and attitudes that students must possess in order to be future ready, with or without the technology. Several technologies have been mentioned in the previous section while many more technologies are currently available for educational use. However, technology is not a substitute for a well-planned, pedagogically sound curriculum. It is only one of many useful tools that can be used to achieve the outlined learning goals, which in this case are the global competencies.

While the Global Competency frameworks have been created and widely adopted in Ontario schools, more work needs to be done in the area of assessment of the Global Competencies. It is essential to provide learners and educators with a framework to monitor the progress beyond simple observational and anecdotal statistics. As individual schools and School Boards continue to work towards incorporating Global Competencies into the curriculum, more assessment tools and strategies will continue to emerge and there will be clearer guidelines available on how the Global Competencies should be assessed.


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Appendix A: How School Boards in Ontario have Incorporated Global Competencies

Fullan’s “6 Cs”, the ISTE Standards (ISTE, 2015) and the Partnership for 21st Century skills (P21, 2009) are a few of the many resources that School Boards in Ontario have used to create frameworks to incorporate the 21st Century Competencies in their strategic plans. A few of the implementation documents are listed below:


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Arooj Arslan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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