Three skills for tomorrow’s classroom

By Andrew Kim, Manager in Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures group

When visiting primary and secondary schools and universities around the country, I see educators using active learning as a way to teach newly-prized 21st century skills. The four Cs – critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration – are being added to the three Rs. Now, we are asking: what’s next?

If the four Cs are the focus for today’s learners, what skills will students of the future need to develop? Through research, observations and conversations, I’ve narrowed down three skills that may prepare future learners for a highly unpredictable, hyper-competitive world.

1. Self-agency

Organisations will need to be more nimble and adaptable. We can expect to see the continued shift from command-and-control to self-learning with flatter structures and more distributed decision-making. In these new models, employees will need to be skilled in self-directed learning and have an increased sense of self-agency.

With the rise of makerspaces in schools, our education system is starting to create learning experiences that help students shift their mindset from being consumers of knowledge to creators. Not only do makerspaces help teach kids tech skills and instil interest in science and engineering careers, they also have the potential of teaching learners a sense of empowerment and that they can impact the world.

“Organisations will need to be more nimble and adaptable. We can expect to see the continued shift from command-and-control to self-learning.” 

Edward Clapp, a researcher from Harvard School of Education, has been studying makerspaces through a multi-year research initiative called Agency By Design. He sees agency as one of the real advantages of maker-centred learning. Similarly, Stanford educators shared with us the benefit of students learning that design thinking is gaining a sense of agency and impact on the world.

2. Paradigm shifting

While the average human lifespan continues to increase, we see the reverse trend with the average lifespan of public companies. Boston Consulting Group’s analysis comparing human lifespans and the lifespans of public companies showed that while human life spans increased nearly 50 percent between 1950 and 2010, corporate life spans have decreased by half.
In an intense, ever-changing marketplace, companies must be prepared to innovate their business models. Companies can no longer compete solely on incremental innovation – disruptive innovations are changing how companies compete with one another. Organizations will need employees who can imagine paradigm shifts. Creative thinking within a given context may no longer be enough. Employees will need to harness their mind and think of new possibilities for their industries.

3. Human-to-computer collaboration

As technology hardware and artificial intelligence continue to improve at high speed, the nature of collaboration will change. We’ll not only need to learn how to collaborate well with others, but we’ll need to learn how to collaborate with machines.

In freestyle chess tournaments, humans can collaborate with other humans and computers in any combination. The surprise winner of the no-rules freestyle tournament wasn’t the grand master chess player collaborating with a computer; rather, it was a team of amateur players working with a team of off-the-shelf computers, the lesson being that the process of collaboration — when we choose to interact with other humans and how we choose to interact with computers — is vital.

To learn more about how education is changing and how educators and students are adapting, visit