Thursday, February 18, 2016

The 4 C’s of Education

Our students’ future will most likely look quite different from our past. If we want them to be successful after graduation it is critical that we help them develop the skills they will need in five, ten, or fifteen years from now.

In the past the “3 R’s” were good enough (even though only one of those skills actually started with an ‘R’ - Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic).

For our students future they need the “4 C’s” to be successful.

Recently I had the privilege to speak on this topic at the 2016 Ohio Educational Technology Conference (OETC16) in a “FREd Talk” (which means "Finding Real Education"). These are very short (5 minute) speeches with 20 slides that change every 15 seconds. They are sort of OETC’s version of TED Talks. Just a lot faster.

See below for the recorded video of my “4 C’s of Education” talk, the unabridged slideshow that goes along with the full presentation, as well as the rest of the blog post where I explain some of the key concepts.




As educators we need to pause every now and then to ask ourselves the question, “When a student graduates what should that student be able to do or know or be?” I asked that of several hundred educators recently and put their responses into a word cloud:

An overall theme that typically comes out is that we want our students to have the skills to be able to succeed in their jobs or college or as a productive citizen. However, in the coming years many jobs that we consider normal are going to change, reduce, or completely disappear. This has always been the case throughout history as technology makes certain task obsolete, including ice cutters, lamplighters, switchboard operators, and bowling alley pinsetters. But never has the pace of change been so rapid as it is now.

The 4 C’s of Education are 21st Century Skills that our students need to be successful in their future. These skills are:
  • Communication - Sharing thoughts, questions, ideas, and solutions
    Our students need to be able to clearly communicate their thoughts through a variety of means including technology. This could include email, chatting, word processing, slideshows, video conferencing (Hangouts), and more. Our students need to share their work with a broad authentic audience beyond just their teacher and the kitchen refrigerator.
  • Collaboration - Working together to reach a goal, putting talent, expertise, and smarts to work
    In the future our students will have jobs that require them to work together with a wide range of diverse people, who may not even be in the same office, state, or country. Many times this may involve collaborative technology such as Google Docs.
  • Creativity - Trying new approaches to get things done equals innovation & invention
    Our students can't simply ingest the facts we give them, and then spit the same information back. They need to be creative, expressing their knowledge in a wide variety of manners including writing, design, animation, video, building, programming, and much more. Our students need to feed their creations back into the class to teach others from what they have learned.
  • Critical Thinking - Looking at problems in a new way, linking learning across subjects & disciplines
    We don’t even know what challenges the future will bring, so our students need to learn to solve problems, whatever they may be. Instead of simply giving our students notes with all the answers, we need to provide them with project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based learning, where the students examine data, look for patterns, draw conclusions, and learn for themselves.
On one hand, technology is causing many of the job changes our students will see in their future. On the other hand, we can use technology now to help prepare them. There are many excellent technology tools that can develop the 4C skills in our student, one of the most powerful being the Google Apps ecosystem.

With Google tools student can learn to collaborate with others across the hall or around the world, communicate their ideas digitally with a global audience, be creative with the thousands of web apps available, and think critically as they analyze information in Google Sheets, Search, and more.

To help us help them, I propose the “4C/3A Challenge”...

  • Appraise your teaching and tools with the 4 C’s
    Just like the 4 C’s of diamonds can be used to appraise the value of a diamond, we need to use the 4 C’s of education to evaluate the quality of our lesson plans and our technology tools. We need to ask ourselves which of the 4 C’s are getting covered in the project we have for our students or the program we want them to use.
  • Apprise your students of the 4 C’s
    We need to teach our students what the 4 C’s are and give them opportunities to use them routinely in their learning.
  • Apply the 4 C’s in your professional life
    And we need to lead by example. We need to practice the 4 C’s in our own professional lives. We need to collaborate with other educators around the world through Google Communities, Twitter chats, Edcamps, and more. We need to be creative in how we use technology to teach our content standards, and communicate our ideas and resources with others.
If we incorporate the 4 C’s into our students learning, that will go a long way to help them develop the skills they will need for their future. And it will help to make sure that “teacher” never joins the bowling alley pinsetters, lamplighters, and other jobs that have become obsolete.

Bonus: See all of the other FREd Talks from the 2016 Ohio Education Technology Conference here: YouTube Playlist

(A big thanks to David Grimes for creating the infographic included at the top this post to illustrate the main points of the presentation!)

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Great job, Eric! Very much enjoyed your presentation!

    With appreciation,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the

  2. Very Nice Presentation about 4cs education