The Four Dimensions of Education: Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century

Principal's Perspective | 23-Feb-2017

The Four Dimensions of Education: Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century

By Rosemary Evans, Principal

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently wrote that “Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we don’t yet know will arise.” He was writing in the introduction of a book by Charles Fadel et. al., director of the Centre for Curriculum Redesign.

Fadel has summarized his thinking on education for the 21st century in his book entitled Four Dimensional Education. Fadel’s four dimensions include knowledge, skills, character and metacognition. In the knowledge domain, he speaks about the need for young people to become both specialists and generalists, learning a field of study in depth and yet also appreciating and understanding how their specialty connects to other disciplines. In addition he argues that we must introduce students to interdisciplinary knowledge critical to tackle many of the challenges facing society today. In the sphere of skills, he underscores the significance of four skill categories: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. He also notes the importance of supporting students to utilize these skills to apply their knowledge to new problems. Finally, Fadel contends that knowledge and skills are not sufficient in today’s world. We must support students’ character development to ensure that they develop the qualities necessary to contribute to shaping a better world. These include: mindfulness, curiosity, courage, resilience, ethics and leadership.

Fadel notes that to continue to grow and develop and to learn young people need to develop the skills of metacognition. This term refers to the ability and habit of constantly reflecting on oneself as a learner including one’s learning goals, strategies and results. Two meta cognitive domain identified by Fadel are: developing a growth mindset, based on the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and also meta-learning which Fadel sees as the motivation to challenge ourselves to continuously learn when we are no longer compelled by educational institutions. Fadel’s powerful synthesis of research into curriculum is summarized in this infographic: