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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Testing and Assessment
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Education for Life and Work:
Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century
Guide for Practitioners  
 Education for Life and Work Practitioner Guide This guide summarizes key information from the report, Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge in the 21st Century, and describes effective teaching approaches. In addition, it identifies areas of convergence with the learning goals set for mathematics and English language arts by the Common Core State Standards and for science as outlined in the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education.

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Consensus Report





Report Brief

Policy Highlights

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Business and political leaders are increasingly asking schools to integrate development of skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration into the teaching and learning of academic subjects.  Collectively these skills are often referred to as "21st century skills" or "deeper learning."


Education for Life and Work: Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, more clearly defines these terms and lays the groundwork for policy and further research in the field.  The report: 

  • clarifies the meaning of "deeper learning" and "21st century skills."  Deeper learning is the process through which a person becomes capable of what was learned in one situation and applying it to new situations.  Through deeper learning, students develop 21st century competencies—transferable expertise within a given subject area, including both knowledge and skills.
  • examines links between 21st century competencies and adult outcomes.  Research on link between 21st century competencies and adult outcomes has been limited so far.  Cognitive competencies—those related to thinking, reasoning and memory—show consistent, positive correlations of modest size with desirable outcomes in education, work, and health.  Being conscientious is also correlated with desirable outcomes.
  • identifies instructional methods that can support students' development of transferable knowledge and sills in a subject area.
  • examines the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts and NRC's K-12 science education framework to assess how well they support deeper learning and 21st century competencies.  All three documents highlight the importance of helping students understand the general principles underlying specific content, a hallmark of deeper learning.
  • recommends that state and federal governments establish policies and programs to support students' acquisition of transferable knowledge and skills.
             Press Release  |  Public Briefing
 ► Read an article about social and emotional learning based on this report

Listen to an interview about the report:


For further information and updates about this study and other studies related to deeper learning and 21st century skills

On February 11th, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills held a Capitol Hill briefing on the NRC Report Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Study Director Margaret Hilton presented the main messages of the report and responded to questions from a full meeting room of Congressional staff, state educational policy leaders and others.

► Read the Education Week report on the briefing



by John Wilson, the former President of the American Federation of Teachers














































Webinars related to the report:


Alliance for Excellent Education



Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Webinar on Education for Life and Work












Related Reports

Assessing 21st Century Skills: Summary of a Workshop (2011)


The routine jobs of yesterday are being replaced by technology and/or shipped off-shore.  In their place, job categories that require knowledge management, abstract reasoning, and personal services seem to be growing.  The modern workplace requires workers to have broad cognitive and affective skills.


Commissioned Papers


Exploring the Intersection of Science Education and 21st Century Skills: A Workshop Summary (2010)


This report addresses key questions about the overlap between 21st century skills— such as adaptability, complex communications skills, and the abilitiy to solve non-routine problems—and scientific content and knowledge; explores promising models or approaches for teaching these abilities; and reviews the evidence about the transferability of these skills to real workplace applications.


Commissioned Papers



Research on Future Skill Demands: A Workshop Summary (2008)


Over the past five years, business and education groups have issued a series of reports indicating that the skill demands of work are rising, due to rapid technological change and increasing global competition. Researchers have begun to study changing workplace skill demands. Some economists have found that technological change is "skill-biased," increasing demand for highly skilled workers and contributing to the growing gap in wages between college-educated workers and those with less education.



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