What are the 4 C's of 21st-century learning skills?

Students on campus completing short course

In the modern education system, the 3 R's (reading, writing and arithmetic) are no longer sufficient to enable a student to compete in the complex work and social structures in which they exist.

To develop successful members of the global society, education must be based on a framework of the Four C's: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creative thinking.

In the last 30 or so years, there has been a well-researched and -documented decline in “routine” work, with a simultaneous rapid increase in jobs requiring communication, analytic, collaborative and creative skills. To adequately prepare students to meet this demand, it’s vital to focus on the intertwined 4 C's of 21st-century learning.

What are the 4 C's?

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is all about looking at problems in a new way and analysing the “how” and “why” of an issue. These types of thinking skills examples include the ability to compare evidence,  evaluate claims and consider information to make sensible decisions.

We are required to sift through an almost incomprehensible amount of information around financial, health, civic, environmental and work every day – this skill allows you to link disciplines and skills to evaluate a situation at a greater depth and explore a greater range of solutions.

Critical thinking for short course

One example of how critical thinking is essential for everyday life is made clear by the ongoing debate about climate change. Critical thinking allows us to go beyond the information provided at face value and instead consider the source of the information, the medium of the information, who benefits from the claim, and so on. This analytical approach to this – and all – situations helps us get to the root of the issue and take rational action.


This skill is experiencing a boom as technology opens up the ways in which we can be creative and demands that we exercise the skill. Creativity isn’t limited to artistic endeavours, it’s about innovation and invention, and is available to everyone. In the competitive 21st century, an innovative and creative approach is essential for personal and professional success. Critical and creative thinking skills are closely linked – after using critical skills to analyse a situation, creative thinking is applied to find an original approach.

To follow the example above about using the 4Cs of 21st-century learning to tackle the issue of climate change, creative thinking has been vital in many of the steps taken thus far in this arena. Instead of just accepting that energy had to come from non-renewable sources, creative minds sought new ways of creating power – giving us solar, hydro and wind power. Consider also the creativity behind using worms to break down plastic.


These days, most significant work is accomplished by people working together: in teams, between departments, across disciplines and between cultures. Collaboration is about working together to reach a goal and combining different and complementary skills, expertise and experience. As the world becomes more and more connected, the skill of collaboration becomes more vital for the workforce as well as for members of society.

In addressing climate change, collaboration is key to success. No one discipline or expert can meet the crisis alone; we need to take an interdisciplinary, international collaborative approach to find and implement holistic solutions.

Collaboration between short course students

Only by collaborating and building on each others’ skills, knowledge and backgrounds can we expect to succeed. Scientists must work with economists to understand the economic impacts of inaction or different actions; with members of the media to share information; with NGOs to support affected groups; with religious and cultural leaders to correctly educate their communities; and with scientists from different disciplines to explore possible solutions.


The skill of communication has always been vital but in the 21st century, the ability to express thoughts clearly, articulate opinions, give coherent instructions and motivate others through speech is increasingly important. Communication is about sharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions effectively – understanding that people and groups from different cultures, ages and backgrounds require different communication styles and methods. Learning how to leverage current and emerging technologies to communicate is vital for professional and private success.

In the context of the climate crisis, good communication skills are essential for educating the general public about the situation effectively. The average layperson doesn’t have the scientific background to interpret complex information themselves, so the information must be shared in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. Media roles in particular require strong communication abilities.

How to develop your 4 C's?

The Four C's are important because they help people navigate a world that is exponentially more complex than it was just a few decades ago. We now need literacy that goes beyond the R's, to allow us to process information, handle technology, collaborate globally and problem solve in a way that allows us to face complicated modern challenges and opportunities.

If you’re ready to develop your critical thinking and creative thinking skills, our Creative and Critical Thinking Digital Badge will cultivate your ability to generate new ideas, and formulate judgements based on evidence.

Student completing Critical Thinking short course

After just six to 12 hours, you will be approaching problems through analytical, perceptive and creative lenses, taking fresh perspectives in the pursuit of positive outcomes and applying original theories to your decision-making process. Find out more about this 100% online short course here.

Explore our Short Courses and Digital Badges
Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.