What’s in a Name? 21st Century Skills vs Social and Emotional Learning

There is a lot of discussion among educators, researchers and policy makers about the importance of 21st Century Skills and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). While closely related, these terms, and the sets of skills they represent, are quite distinct. Because of inconsistencies in terminology, it is easy to confuse these two concepts. A better understanding of each term can help educators determine the best ways to teach students these equally important sets of skills.

21st Century Skills

In its broadest sense, 21st Century Skills refer to a broad set of competencies that are critical for an information- and technology-driven world. Society is changing at such a rapid pace that many of the jobs students will acquire after graduation don’t even exist yet! This means that the traditional method of teaching students just the facts is no longer enough. Modern students need strong critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, and they need to be able to quickly adapt and apply these competencies to real-life situations.

The 21st Century Skills framework is fairly broad and can vary from school to school. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), 21st Century Skills include the following domains and subdomains:

Many districts and states are including these skills in their standards, acknowledging that these non-academic skills are just as important as reading, writing, math, and science. Educators in turn are helping students develop 21st century skills by incorporating instructional approaches such as project-based learning to promote these skills across the curriculum.

Social and Emotional Competencies

In contrast, SEL is a more narrow approach that focuses on non-academic competencies that will help students achieve academically and become healthy, well-rounded, and productive members of society. As defined by CASEL, the SEL framework “enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.” It fosters aptitude in intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive domains. The five core competencies of CASEL’s framework include:

Much of the research linking non-academic competencies to improved outcomes is based on SEL frameworks. Many studies show that students who possess strong social and emotional skills have better grades, fewer behavioral incidents, and are more likely to graduate and achieve success in college or careers.

Schools and districts can implement a SEL framework in a number of ways. Aperture Education’s Evo SEL Platform helps schools begin developing social and emotional skills as early as kindergarten. Our system provides research-based assessments, data-interpretation strategies, implementation ideas, and lesson plans to help students develop these important competencies so they can go on to achieve success in school and beyond.

In order to succeed and thrive in today’s workplace, students need to possess strong critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, as well as the ability to collaborate, communicate and quickly adapt to changing situations. Together, 21st Century Skills and SEL can prepare students to be successful in school and in whatever the future may hold for their careers.

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