4 C's of 21st Century Learning

The Four Cs of 21st century learning, also known as the Four Cs or 4 Cs, are four skills that have been identified by the United States-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) as the most important skills required for 21st century education: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking is employed when students do any or all of the following:

  • Reason effectively, and explain that reasoning
  • Make judgments or decisions and defending those decisions
  • Solve problems

There are many opportunities for Critical Thinking to be employed and evaluated in a classroom setting, and here are a few examples:

  • Students interpret music, art, photography, etc. and explaining reasons for their interpretation.
  • Students evaluate and/or assess interpretations, arguments, sources, applications, processes, proposals, etc.
  • Students analyze and compare results of experiments or investigation.

Students solve problems through investigation, experimentation, and reflection


Creativity means more than just drawing, painting or writing music. It can more effectively be defined as innovation and originality in any context. Creativity also includes:

  • Using a wide variety of creation and innovation techniques (like brainstorming)
  • Working creatively with others to develop, implement and communicate new ideas
  • Implementing new ideas providing useful contributions to the concept

Creativity has an important place in all classes, not just the arts. Some examples include:

  • Students design and defend an original design to solve a problem or improve a situation
  • Students create a system, process or protocol for achieving a goal or reaching an expectation
  • Students think outside the box, working toward a goal or achieve an objective

Students take risks by coming up with new ideas and


Students must be able to effectively analyze and process the overwhelming amount of communication in their lives today. Communication can be difficult to separate from the other Cs (especially collaboration). Communication cannot be effective unless the message is received and understood. The ability to communicate clearly includes:

  • Articulating thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
  • Listening effectively to decipher meaning
  • Using communication for a range of purposes (e.g. informing, instructing, motivating, persuading)
  • Being able to assess impact and effectiveness of the use of multiple media and technologies
  • Communicating effectively in diverse environments (including multilingual and multicultural)

Communication is a vital aspect of any classroom. Here are a few examples:

  • Interviewing a local leader to learn about work projects to share back with peers.
  • Researching various perspectives around a recent world/local event, choosing an appropriate perspective, and reporting findings back in an appropriate medium.


Collaboration has been accepted as a skill that’s essential to achieve meaningful and effective results and has become increasingly clear that is not only important but necessary for students due to the rise of technology. Collaboration is when students do any or all of the following:

  • Demonstrate the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Collaboration is a key ingredient to student success in today’s global society. Here are a few examples:

  • Students team with another class or classmate to research/compare/contrast a topic to produce a multimedia informational presentation for their peers.
  • After studying a community issue, students compose email messages appropriate to various local, state, and national officials, stating their opinion and offering alternatives to current methods of dealing with the issue.
  • Survey peers and analyze the results to create a digital presentation that clearly describes the results of the survey.
  • Students collaborate with community members in a digital storytelling workshop. The students bring the story of the community member to life as they collaborate on the writing and creation of a video including narration and selecting appropriate images and videos. Students present the finished video to the community member.