The 4C’s and New Learners of the 21st Century

As trends in education pedagogy move away from standardized testing, educators are able to embrace an alternative framework, allowing for highly effective and engaging experiences inside and beyond the classroom. Part of this framework involves incorporating, what is commonly known in the education world as, ‘the 4 C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity’. Promoting and valuing these four ideas leads to students who are not only successful in assessments while functioning in the classroom, but also outside the classroom walls, in the real world. If we cannot provide our students with the tools to function independently, effectively, and as innovators outside of the classroom, are we really doing them any service, at all? I do not believe so, therefore; it is important to explicitly incorporate ‘the 4C’s’ into teaching pedagogy to develop our students for the jobs they will explore in the future.

In a video provided by the Tech Knight, I was able to get an inside look into how different institutions embrace the technology savvy 21st Century learners we are encountering in our classrooms. In conjunction with promoting ‘the 4C’s’ the highlighted institutions, educators, and students took on learning in a totally revolutionary, digital way. One such institution in Chicago is the Digital Youth Network (DYN); an after school program that has developed into a full-fledged in-school media arts program, even establishing a partnership with the Chicago Public Library. Although not necessarily explicitly targeting state or national standards for learning, DYN allows students the opportunity to get hands on experience with digital media, while developing and fine-tuning 4C skills. For example,

Working with DYN allows students the opportunity employ critical thinking in regards to their actions and the decisions they make, both among classmates and with their peers at home. Additionally, it seems much easier for students to think critically when they can conceptualize why decisions are important and how significant an impact they may have. When interacting with technology in a hands on, grassroots, authentic, real-world way, the students in the DYN program teach themselves when, how, and the importance of critical thinking.

The DYN program encourages collaboration amongst students at all levels, tasking them to tackle heavy issues that they are or will face in the real world. One of the students featured in the video explained her understanding of collaboration as “sometimes having to take the passenger seat and go along for the ride.” Through collaborating with their classmates, peers, teachers, community, and digital community, these students are talking to and hearing from people from all walks of life.

Another student in the video spoke on collaboration and summed up that, from his work in the DYN program, he possessed the skills to “fit in every pocket of society”… what a powerful and articulate statement for a high school student to conceptualize and verbalize.

DYN embraces and empowers students to explore the many avenues of communication in the 21st Century. As so many of the ways to communicate are digital, it can be said that perhaps, what it means to be literate now encompasses digital literacy. The DYN program offers opportunities to not only learn about digital communication, but also to learn by experiencing, hands on, how to effectively digitally communicate.

Of the 4C’s, I believe the DYN program focuses and embraces creativity to its fullest. To promote the flow of ideas and spark inspiration, spaces for students are created in typical classroom settings, but more so as ‘non-traditional’, spaces similar to what might be seen in the real world. For example, upperclassmen in the DYN program have the ability to create content for, plan, and then present material they have learned to a class of middle school students. As we know, creativity is one of the most important aspects of teaching, so to see a high school student able to create content and present to an audience speaks volumes about the opportunity to express creativity the DYN program gives students on a daily basis.

An expert in the video asserts that, “every kid has an interest.” I believe that the DYN program in Chicago allows students to discover and develop an interest that will put them at the forefront of 21st Century learning. While fostering a lifelong passion for digital media, students are able to seamlessly use critical thinking skills, collaboration, communication, and creativity to ultimately thrive as citizens of the real world.



PBS Digital Media* New Learners of the 21st Century

 Digital Youth Network


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Robyn W

Marymount University graduate student. Future teacher, lifelong learner. Brunch enthusiast.

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