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Soft skills 101: definition + 50 examples.

Published on May 18, 2023

Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s job market. They refer to the personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively with others, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and time management. Employers are looking for candidates who possess these skills in addition to their technical expertise. In this article, we will guide beginners on how to showcase their soft skills on their resume.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills refer to a set of personal attributes, behaviors, and social attitudes that enable individuals to interact effectively with others in a workplace or social environment. These skills are essential for building healthy relationships, communicating effectively, solving problems, and collaborating with others. Soft skills are intangible and subjective qualities that cannot be measured or quantified like hard skills. They include

  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking
  • adaptability
  • time management
  • emotional intelligence

(More examples below)

Developing soft skills is crucial in today’s job market, where employers value employees who can demonstrate a range of interpersonal skills that can help organizations thrive in a fast-paced, competitive environment. Moreover, soft skills are not just limited to the workplace. They also play a significant role in our personal lives, helping us build meaningful relationships, manage conflicts, and navigate social situations effectively.

Soft skills are often developed through life experiences, practice, and self-reflection, and can be honed through various methods such as attending workshops, reading books, or seeking feedback from others. In summary, soft skills are a vital component of personal and professional success and are essential for individuals looking to achieve their goals and make a positive impact in the world.

How to share soft skills

1. identify the soft skills required for the job.

The first step is to research the job requirements and identify the soft skills that are essential for the role. This information can be found in the job description or by speaking to people in the industry. Once you have a list of required soft skills, you can focus on highlighting them in your resume.

2. Incorporate soft skills into your resume objective or summary

Your resume objective or summary is the first thing that recruiters will read. This is an excellent opportunity to showcase your soft skills. You can incorporate them by using phrases such as “I am a highly motivated individual with excellent communication and teamwork skills.”

3. Provide examples of your soft skills in the experience section

In the experience section of your resume, provide specific examples of how you have used your soft skills in previous roles. For example, if you are applying for a customer service role, you could highlight how you have resolved customer complaints by utilizing your problem-solving skills. Use action verbs such as “managed,” “coordinated,” “facilitated,” or “led” to describe your soft skills in action.

4. Highlight soft skills in the skills section

The skills section of your resume is an excellent opportunity to showcase your soft skills. List them under a separate heading and use bullet points to describe each one. For example, under the heading “Teamwork,” you could list bullet points such as “collaborated with team members to achieve project goals” or “supported team members in achieving their individual goals.”

5. Provide additional evidence of your soft skills

Finally, provide additional evidence of your soft skills in your resume by including any relevant certifications or awards. For example, if you have completed a leadership course or received an award for outstanding teamwork, be sure to include it in your resume.

Examples of Soft Skills

1. communication.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful professional relationship. Being able to articulate your thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely in written or verbal form is crucial for maintaining productive working relationships. This soft skill also encompasses active listening, understanding and interpreting non-verbal cues, and adapting communication style to suit different audiences.

2. Teamwork

Teamwork is about working collaboratively with others to achieve a common goal. It involves sharing ideas and resources, taking on different roles and responsibilities, and being willing to support and assist team members as needed. A strong team player also understands the importance of building trust and rapport with colleagues, communicating effectively, and being receptive to feedback.

3. Problem-solving

The ability to identify, analyze and solve problems is an essential soft skill in any workplace. A skilled problem-solver has a logical and systematic approach to identifying the root cause of issues, as well as the creativity to generate and implement effective solutions. This skill requires a combination of critical thinking, research, data analysis, and innovation.

4. Time management

Effective time management is vital for meeting deadlines and achieving business goals. It requires a proactive approach to planning, prioritization and organization. This soft skill also involves the ability to stay focused and avoid distractions, delegate tasks when appropriate, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

5. Leadership

Leadership is the ability to inspire and motivate others to achieve a common objective. A skilled leader can provide direction and guidance, manage resources and people effectively, and make difficult decisions when necessary. This soft skill also encompasses effective communication, problem-solving, strategic thinking, and the ability to foster a positive and inclusive team culture.

6. Adaptability

Adaptability is the ability to adjust to change and new situations with ease. A highly adaptable person can work effectively in diverse environments, be flexible with changing priorities, and learn new skills and systems quickly. This soft skill also involves being open-minded, creative and innovative, and able to think on one’s feet.

7. Creativity

Creativity involves the ability to generate new ideas, think outside the box, and approach problems from different angles. This soft skill requires imagination, curiosity, and the ability to see connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is essential for innovation, process improvement, and finding new solutions to complex problems.

Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to others’ emotions and experiences. This soft skill involves active listening, showing compassion, and being able to put oneself in others’ shoes. Empathy is crucial for building strong relationships, resolving conflicts, and creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

9. Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is the ability to manage and resolve conflicts effectively. A skilled conflict resolver can identify the underlying causes of conflict, communicate clearly and empathetically, and negotiate win-win solutions. This soft skill also involves active listening, problem-solving, and the ability to remain calm and objective under pressure.

10. Active listening

Active listening is the ability to focus on and understand the speaker’s message fully. This soft skill involves paying attention to non-verbal cues, asking clarifying questions, and providing feedback to the speaker. Active listening is essential for effective communication, building trust and rapport, and resolving conflicts.

11. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information objectively and make informed decisions. This soft skill involves evaluating evidence, identifying assumptions, and recognizing biases. A skilled critical thinker can synthesize complex information, consider multiple perspectives, and make logical and evidence-based conclusions.

12. Cultural competence

Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This soft skill involves understanding and respecting cultural differences, being aware of one’s own biases, and adapting communication and behavior to suit different cultural contexts. A culturally competent person can build strong relationships with people from all walks of life.

13. Customer service

Customer service is the ability to provide exceptional service to customers and clients. This soft skill involves actively listening to customers’ needs, providing accurate and timely information, and resolving issues in a timely and professional manner. A skilled customer service provider can build strong customer relationships, foster loyalty, and enhance the company’s reputation.

14. Decision-making

Decision-making is the ability to make effective decisions based on available information. This soft skill involves weighing different options, considering potential outcomes, and evaluating risks and benefits. A skilled decision-maker can make timely and effective decisions, communicate their reasoning clearly, and be accountable for their choices.

15. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. This soft skill involves being aware of one’s own emotional state, being empathetic towards others, and responding appropriately to emotional cues. A person with high emotional intelligence can build strong relationships, resolve conflicts effectively, and lead with empathy.

16. Flexibility

Flexibility is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and handle multiple tasks simultaneously. This soft skill involves being open-minded, responsive to feedback, and able to adjust to new situations with ease. A flexible person can work effectively in fast-paced environments, handle unexpected challenges, and maintain a positive attitude.

17. Goal-setting

Goal-setting is the ability to set achievable goals and work towards achieving them. This soft skill involves being proactive, organized, and focused on results. A person who sets effective goals can prioritize tasks, track progress, and maintain motivation in the face of challenges.

18. Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are the ability to build and maintain positive relationships with others. This soft skill involves effective communication, active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution. A person with strong interpersonal skills can build rapport, establish trust, and collaborate effectively with others.

19. Negotiation

Negotiation is the ability to negotiate and resolve conflicts effectively. This soft skill involves identifying common ground, being persuasive, and finding win-win solutions. A skilled negotiator can build relationships, resolve conflicts, and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

20. Patience

Patience is the ability to remain calm and composed in challenging situations. This soft skill involves self-control, emotional regulation, and the ability to take a long-term view. A patient person can stay focused on goals, maintain relationships, and handle difficult situations with grace and resilience.

21. Persuasion

Persuasion is the ability to convince others of one’s ideas and opinions. This soft skill involves effective communication, building trust, and being able to present a compelling argument. A skilled persuader can influence decisions, build consensus, and negotiate win-win outcomes.

22. Positive attitude

A positive attitude is the ability to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. This soft skill involves being resilient, adaptable, and solution-oriented. A person with a positive attitude can motivate others, foster collaboration, and build strong relationships even in difficult circumstances.

23. Presentation skills

Presentation skills are the ability to present ideas and information clearly and persuasively. This soft skill involves effective communication, organization, and the ability to engage an audience. A skilled presenter can influence decisions, build credibility, and create a lasting impression.

24. Problem analysis

Problem analysis is the ability to identify and analyze problems to find effective solutions. This soft skill involves critical thinking, data analysis, and the ability to think creatively. A skilled problem analyst can identify root causes, develop effective strategies, and implement sustainable solutions.

25. Self-motivation

Self-motivation is the ability to motivate oneself to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. This soft skill involves being proactive, focused, and disciplined. A person with high self-motivation can stay on track, take initiative, and achieve success in the face of challenges.

26. Stress management

Stress management is the ability to manage stress effectively and remain calm under pressure. This soft skill involves self-awareness, emotional regulation, and coping strategies. A person with strong stress management skills can maintain productivity, build resilience, and manage relationships effectively even in high-pressure situations.

27. Time management

Effective time management is vital for meeting deadlines and achieving business goals. This soft skill requires a proactive approach to planning, prioritization, and organization. A skilled time manager can maintain focus, avoid distractions, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

28. Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness is the ability to maintain the trust and confidence of others. This soft skill involves being honest, reliable, and accountable. A person with high trustworthiness can build strong relationships, foster teamwork, and promote a culture of trust and respect.

29. Verbal communication

Verbal communication is the ability to articulate ideas and information clearly and effectively. This soft skill involves effective listening, tone, and the ability to adapt communication style to different audiences. A person with strong verbal communication skills can build rapport, resolve conflicts, and motivate others effectively.

30. Writing

Writing is the ability to write clearly and effectively to convey ideas and information. This soft skill involves grammar, syntax, and effective communication. A skilled writer can communicate complex ideas clearly, persuade readers, and create compelling content that engages and inspires.

31. Attention to detail

Attention to detail is the ability to notice small details and ensure accuracy and quality in work. This soft skill involves being meticulous, thorough, and focused on delivering high-quality results. A person with strong attention to detail can minimize errors, enhance productivity, and maintain customer satisfaction.

32. Coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring is the ability to guide, teach and mentor others to achieve their goals. This soft skill involves providing feedback, modeling behavior, and supporting others in their professional development. A skilled coach and mentor can build relationships, inspire growth, and promote a positive team culture.

33. Conflict management

Conflict management is the ability to manage conflicts effectively and reach win-win solutions. This soft skill involves effective communication, active listening, and negotiation. A person with strong conflict management skills can resolve disputes, build consensus, and promote collaboration in a team environment.

34. Cultural awareness

Cultural awareness is the ability to understand and respect cultural differences in the workplace. This soft skill involves recognizing and appreciating diverse perspectives, beliefs, and values. A culturally aware person can work effectively in a global environment, build relationships across cultures, and promote inclusion and diversity.

35. Decision-making

Decision-making is the ability to make informed and timely decisions. This soft skill involves analyzing data, evaluating options, and considering the impact of decisions on stakeholders. A skilled decision-maker can make sound decisions, take calculated risks, and achieve business objectives effectively.

36. Dependability

Dependability is the ability to be reliable and trustworthy in completing tasks and meeting deadlines. This soft skill involves being accountable, punctual, and responsive. A dependable person can maintain high standards, meet expectations, and build trust and respect among colleagues.

37. Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion is the ability to work effectively with people from diverse backgrounds and foster an inclusive workplace culture. This soft skill involves being open-minded, respectful, and supportive of differences. A person with strong diversity and inclusion skills can build a sense of belonging, promote creativity, and enhance business outcomes.

38. Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is the ability to approach work with passion and energy. This soft skill involves being optimistic, engaged, and committed to achieving results. A person with strong enthusiasm can inspire others, promote positive attitudes, and drive success in a team environment.

39. Financial management

Financial management is the ability to manage financial resources effectively. This soft skill involves understanding financial principles, analyzing data, and making sound decisions. A person with strong financial management skills can optimize resources, minimize risk, and achieve business objectives.

40. Humility

Humility is the ability to admit mistakes and learn from feedback. This soft skill involves being open-minded, reflective, and willing to grow. A person with strong humility can build credibility, promote a culture of learning, and maintain positive relationships with colleagues.

41. Initiative

Initiative is the ability to take proactive steps to solve problems and improve processes. This soft skill involves being self-motivated, creative, and willing to take calculated risks. A person with strong initiative can drive innovation, enhance productivity, and achieve business goals.

42. Innovation

Innovation is the ability to create new ideas, products, or processes. This soft skill involves being creative, adaptable, and willing to take risks. A person with strong innovation skills can drive growth, solve complex problems, and enhance customer satisfaction.

43. Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication is the ability to communicate effectively across different cultures and languages. This soft skill involves being aware of cultural differences, using appropriate language and tone, and adapting to cultural norms. A person with strong intercultural communication skills can build strong relationships, promote understanding, and enhance global business outcomes.

44. Interpersonal communication

Interpersonal communication is the ability to communicate effectively and build strong relationships with others. This soft skill involves active listening, empathy, and effective use of non-verbal cues. A person with strong interpersonal communication skills can build trust, resolve conflicts, and promote collaboration in a team environment.

45. Learning agility

Learning agility is the ability to adapt to new situations and learn quickly. This soft skill involves being open-minded, curious, and willing to experiment. A person with strong learning agility can acquire new skills and knowledge, adapt to changing circumstances, and enhance personal and professional growth.

46. Organizational skills

Organizational skills are the ability to manage multiple tasks and priorities effectively. This soft skill involves being organized, efficient, and able to prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. A person with strong organizational skills can meet deadlines, maximize productivity, and achieve business goals.

47. Presentation skills

Presentation skills are the ability to deliver compelling and engaging presentations. This soft skill involves being articulate, persuasive, and confident in delivering presentations to different audiences. A person with strong presentation skills can influence decisions, build credibility, and enhance business outcomes.

48. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and bounce back from setbacks. This soft skill involves being adaptable, positive, and able to maintain perspective in difficult situations. A person with strong resilience can maintain productivity, overcome obstacles, and maintain positive relationships with colleagues.

49. Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking is the ability to think ahead and plan for the future. This soft skill involves being able to identify trends, anticipate challenges, and develop effective strategies to achieve business objectives. A person with strong strategic thinking skills can maximize opportunities, minimize risk, and enhance business outcomes.

50. Work ethic

Work ethic is the ability to work hard, be persistent, and demonstrate a strong commitment to work. This soft skill involves being reliable, responsible, and willing to go the extra mile to achieve results. A person with strong work ethic can maintain high standards, build trust with colleagues, and achieve success in their career.

In conclusion, showcasing your soft skills on your resume is essential in today’s job market. By identifying the soft skills required for the job, incorporating them into your resume objective or summary, providing examples in the experience section, highlighting them in the skills section, and providing additional evidence, you can set yourself apart from other candidates and increase your chances of landing the job.

Reposted with permission from Handshake student blog

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8 professional soft skills you need for the workplace and how to get them

By Brian Fairbanks

Business woman demonstrating soft skills by leading a presentation during a work meeting

This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee.  Read more about our editorial process.

Jessica Roper, MBA, Director of Career Services

Reviewed by Jessica Roper, MBA, Director of Career Services

At a glance

  • While hard skills relevant to the job are critical, employers are seeking professionals who can work and succeed in a team environment .
  • Soft skills impact how we build relationships , work together and ultimately do our jobs.
  • Some top soft skills include communication, teamwork, time management and leadership.
  • University of Phoenix has built soft skills into its curriculum to ensure graduates have a complete toolkit to succeed in today’s competitive workplace.

This article was updated on December 6, 2023.  

What are soft skills and why do they matter?

It’s no secret that bolstering your skill set is essential for a successful career in virtually any field. But there’s another set of skills to master outside of your chosen profession. No matter what your field or your level of expertise, these skills are always in demand, and they’re known as soft skills.

Soft skills are common sense, core abilities like critical thinking, effective writing, understanding general hierarchies, an aptitude for teamwork, the ability to read tone and body language, public speaking and other communication skills. Additionally, those with networking skills, organizational skills and other interpersonal skills often find themselves positioned for success, thanks to their ability to read a situation and adapt.

The importance of soft skills in the workplace cannot be overstated. Enhancing your career can often be made easier with the right communication skills and teamwork skills. Soft skills can also help you stand out as an attractive candidate when it comes to job interviews.

Doris Savron, vice provost at University of Phoenix

"We use these skills every day both in the workplace and in our personal lives," notes Doris Savron, vice provost at  University of Phoenix  (UOPX). "Soft skills influence how we interact and build relationships with others. They help us build trust and appreciate the value of what others may have to offer. The relationships we build are critical to career success. Unfortunately, there are often assumptions that people should already know how to interact and work with others, and there is less focus on developing these skills like listening, communicating, managing conflict and adapting to situations quickly."

These skills are so mission-critical, in fact, that the job-search powerhouse recommends highlighting them on your job applications. The website notes : "Employers recognize the importance of soft skills in the workplace, so it's important for people to put soft skills at the forefront of job applications. Soft skills demonstrate that you understand the different characteristics that will help you succeed within an organization and your specific position."

What’s the difference between soft and hard skills? And how do you develop this essential knowledge? Read on to find out.

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Hard skills vs. soft skills

You may be wondering about the difference between soft and hard skills. Soft skills are typically seen as "people skills," like communicating and working well with others, patience, time management, leadership, public speaking and  others .

Hard skills  are generally considered "talents" developed after months or years of training, such as learning a foreign language, project management, computer and analytical skills, and more.

Savron expands on this, saying: "Hard skills include knowledge and abilities needed specifically to do a certain job, often considered technical skills. For example, a nurse needs to understand medical terminology or how to take someone’s blood pressure [and] do an injection.

"These specific [hard] skills are unique to the job," she explains. "Soft skills are personal attributes that determine how well a person would fit into a team and [they] are skills shared across job functions like communication skills or critical thinking."

While soft skills are important, they can be hard to quantify and prove. Or, as The Balance Careers points out, "If an employer is looking for someone who knows a programming language, you can share your grade in a class or point to a program you created using the language. But how can you show that you have a work ethic or any other soft skill?"

Soft skills, therefore, are ones that you must show, rather than tell.  Show  you are a great public speaker by offering to take the lead on a presentation.  Demonstrate  your strong creative writing and communication skills by helping with a press release for a product launch.

To demonstrate your mastery of a hard skill, on the other hand, you would simply  tell  the interviewer how you developed that skill, whether it was by graduating at the top of your class or completing a certificate program.

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Why we all need soft skills.

"Employers have a desire for all employees to have key soft skills," Savron says. She adds that some of the most important are good communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and integrity.

"Newer ones being adding to those expectations include empathy, creativity, and diversity and cultural competence," she says. "These skills contribute to career success as much as hard skills do and are even more critical for leadership."

8 top soft skills for school and work

There are many,  many soft skills to consider developing  or highlighting. Some of the more prominent ones include:

  • Organization . Do you care about physical neatness (e.g., a clean desk, folders in their proper order in filing cabinets) as well as mental organization (keeping track of your to-do list)? Then you are already well ahead of most people in terms of organization.
  • Communication . Reaching people is easy. Convincing them, captivating them, entertaining them or educating them, however, can be incredibly challenging without interpersonal skills like communication. If people frequently ask you to clarify a point, your documents come back with lots of red pen marks or you’ve had problems with HR because someone misunderstood or misinterpreted your comment, you may need to work on your communication skills.
  • Teamwork . Teamwork is crucial, even if you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer. You need to know how to work alongside your clients, their employees, vendors, team members who work for your clients or partner organizations also serving them. You may even need to know how to work with and manage eventual employees of your own.
  • Networking . Succeeding in any field, especially competitive ones, requires strong networking skills. These might include remembering people you met briefly (and by full name), collecting business cards, joining LinkedIn® Corporation and using it to your benefit and generally building your "network" or professional database of friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
  • Public speaking . Many people fear public speaking, some are indifferent and a few are exceptional, natural orators. The trick is understanding which one you are  before  your first presentation or business event. If you’re one of the many people who find public speaking tough (or downright terrifying), practice makes perfect. The more times you run through it, the more likely you are to do the real thing with confidence.
  • Creative writing . If you were assigned to write an article or essay on a specific subject, could you do it? If you recoil at the idea of typing something from scratch (or even an outline), you may need to develop your writing skills.
  • Time management . Are you using your time wisely? If you feel like you get things done much faster than coworkers, you may be practicing excellent time management. If, on the other hand, you feel harried or behind, you may need to work on prioritizing your to-do list, setting clear and attainable goals and further fine-tuning your time-management skills.
  • Leadership . While some people are natural leaders, others benefit from the mentorship of a good leader. Skills like time management, delegation, goal setting, conflict resolution and communication all combine within excellent leaders who can guide their team to success.

Another soft skill worth developing is learning how to take initiative. This is a little tricky since it involves being attuned to tasks or problems before they’re readily apparent. And while it’s great to head off problems or complete a project before anyone asks you to, be careful that you do not overstep your boundaries. (Doing someone else’s job, for example, might not go over well with your co-worker or your supervisor.)

Do, however, look for ways to get a head start on a project you’re already going to be working on. Or see if you can complete preliminary research or brainstorm ahead of a meeting or workshop.

How to learn soft skills at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix  recognizes the importance of soft skills, such as communication and critical thinking, and has built them into its curriculum. 

"We believe that soft skills are so critical," says Savron, "we developed University Learning Goals that all programs and certificates adopt into their curriculum alongside hard-skill development."

These learning goals include soft-skill staples like collaboration, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving. Other skills, like cultural competence and digital fluency (communicating, making decisions and achieving results leveraging technology for success online), are in the works.

“Each program or certificate not only maps and assesses those hard skills relevant to each credential," says Savron, "but it incorporates and assesses all these soft skills tied to the University Learning Goals as well."

Because at the end of the day, success boils down to more than just hard skills. You need soft skills, too, for today’s marketplace.

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Common Employability Skills Framework

National network of business and industry associations.

The Common Employability Skills Framework identifies a core set of fundamental skills using a common vocabulary that potential employees need in the workplace.

What This Includes

Skills addressed: Integrity, Initiative, Dependability & Reliability, Adaptability, Professionalism, Technology, Critical Thinking, Teamwork, Communication, Respect, Planning & Organizing, Problem Solving, Decision Making

  • An integrated framework of personal and employability skills that are applicable across disciplines and job sectors
  • Detailed descriptions of core skills in four cross-disciplinary areas: personal skills, people skills, applied knowledge (academic), and workplace skills

Key Takeaways

  • The target audience for this framework includes three groups: employers (to identify and name key skills they’re looking for), employees (to identify key skills they have or lack and better articulate them to potential employers), and educators (to aid in the construction of workforce development curricula that emphasizes explicit instruction of those key skills).
  •  This tool is best utilized as a framework to develop instructional curricula and assessments using the skill descriptions and indicators. Most easily integrated into intermediate/advanced High School Equivalency (HSE) classes and workforce development workshops.
  •  With adaptation, can be used with intermediate and advanced English language learners.

The National Network of Business and Industry Associations represents major business sectors and is funded through a collaborative partnership of Business Roundtable (BRT), ACT Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and Lumina Foundation. Members include leaders in the manufacturing, retail, healthcare, energy, construction, hospitality, transportation, and information technology sectors. They represent the source of nearly 75 percent of projected U.S. job growth through 2020 (an estimated 30 million new jobs).

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Teamwork & Collaboration

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  • Published: 05 December 2013

Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course for All High School Students in the 21st Century

  • Terresa Carlgren 1  

Interchange volume  44 ,  pages 63–81 ( 2013 ) Cite this article

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The skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving are essential to thriving as a citizen in the 21st century. These skills are required in order to contribute as a member of society, operate effectively in post-secondary institutions, and be competitive in the global market. Unfortunately they are not always intuitive or simple in nature. Instead these skills require both effort and time be devoted to identifying, learning, exploring, synthesizing, and applying them to different contexts and problems. This article argues that current high school students are hindered in their learning of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving by three factors: the structure of the current western education system, the complexity of the skills themselves, and the competence of the teachers to teach these skills in conjunction with their course material. The article will further advocate that all current high school students need the opportunity to develop these skills. Finally, it will posit that a course be offered to explicitly teach students these skills within a slightly modified western model of education.

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A model of education as organized from western countries such as Canada, Great Britain, the United States, and some European nations by way of organizational structure (identified curricular outcomes, assessment strategies, hierarchical administrative levels).

Immersion in terms of critical thinking instruction refers to “deep, thoughtful, well understood subject-matter instruction in which the students are encouraged to think critically in the subject … but in which general critical thinking principles are not made explicit” (Ennis 1989 , p. 5).

Infusion as it refers to critical thinking involves the explicit instruction of critical thinking principles and strategies in conjunction with the subject material (Ennis 1989 , p. 5).

5 credit course as per government of Alberta standards (Alberta, Canada), , p. 42.

See basic structure of Alberta Education curriculum. Example from Science 10; .

Note: the curricular framework for this course is modelled after that of some curriculum in Alberta (Alberta Education 2005 ).

Alberta Education. (2005). Science 10 . Retrieved from .

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Alberta Education. (2012). Guide to education: ECS to grade 12 . Retrieved from .

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2011). A time for deeper learning: Preparing students for a changing world. Education Digest, 77 (4), 43–49. Retrieved from .

Berger, E. B., & Starbird, M. (2012). The 5 elements of effective thinking . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Course Syllabus and Outline

Title: Communication, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving (an introduction)

Course Components

No exclusionary, discriminatory, or derogatory material will be taught in this course, nor will the content in this course be deemed controversial in any way.

Philosophy and Rationale

Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uniformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated (Paul and Elder 2008 , p. 2).

The skills required of today’s youth are more pronounced than that of the past. Students are required to have basic knowledge of content in areas of Science, Math, and English; as well as technological skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to communicate (Sahlberg 2006 ). However, with the time constraints placed on teachers, knowledge outcomes taking priority on learning due to the high stakes standardized achievement tests, and an understanding that the particular skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving require explicit instruction (Rosefsky and Opfer 2012 ); students are not mastering these skills to an acceptable standard.

In order for students to acquire and master the skills necessary to compete and be successful in the work force, post secondary education, and life; students must have the opportunity to engage by learning these skills through practice, application, and devoted explicit attention. Furthermore, students must explore these skills without fear of failure but rather with hope that they can improve and move forward from the learning experience. In this way, learning these skills as a secondary item within the context of another content based course will not do the students justice.

Historically, the skills of sewing, cooking, woodworking, and mechanics where offered in high school as application based courses that required hands on and explorative learning with teacher guidance. More recently computer courses, and digital citizenship are taking hold in schools to teach students these skills. There is no reason why the skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving should be treated any differently.

Without the structure and organization of education making drastic changes to mandate these skills be made more of a priority in the classroom, it is feared that the teaching and learning of these skills will remain an oversight. It is unfortunate that the students; citizens, economic and market contributors of our future, will be underserved. It is with these reasons that this course offering takes place; such that an opportunity within the current educational structure can provide students the opportunity to guard themselves with new foundational skills for the future.

General Learner Expectations

By the end of this course, it is expected learners will have developed and ascertained explicit knowledge of communication, critical thinking and problem solving. More importantly, students will have acquired the skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving through application, exploration, and trial and error, such that they can utilize these skills in different contexts of their lives in preparation for the work force or post-secondary education.

Specific Learner Expectations

The following is a list of specific learner expectations for the course. Please note that the units identified for this course are titled ‘Skill-sets’ for a reason as they are not discrete topics to be taught in isolation, but rather guides toward the encompassing theme of acquiring these skills. This course is in no way designed as a check the outcome box course, nor is it organized in order by skill or outcome number. Rather, the outcomes and skill-sets must be taught in conjunction with each other through the duration of the course with trust being given to the fact that through student exploration and leadership; along side teacher guidance and facilitation, students will improve on their existing skill-set for these skills.

Skill Set A: Critical Thinking Skills Footnote 6

Knowledge Outcomes: (Students will be able to)

A.K.1 Define the difference between fact and inference.

A.K.2 Derive criteria for which to judge a problem or predicament.

A.K.3 List the elements of thought associated with critical thinking as per one critical thinking model (Paul and Elder, Rusten and Schuman).

A.K.4 Identify inherent and hidden bias in an argument.

A.K.5 Identify faults in thinking due to oversimplifying or over generalizing issues or problems.

A.K.6 Identify and state the purpose of thinking.

Skill Outcomes: (Students will be able to)

A.S.1 Utilize background knowledge to solve a problem or predicament.

A.S.2 Apply evidence to solve a problem or predicament.

A.S.3 Express an argument that is logical, clear, and concise.

A.S.4 Derive and model a process by which to critically analyze, think, and solve a problem or predicament that involves a reasonable, logical, and relevant thinking strategy.

A.S.5 Explore alternative options and methods before drawing a conclusion.

A.S.6 Illustrate and explore the consequences and implications following the solution of a problem or issue.

A.S.7 Model, display, or perform the ability to think critically through verbal, written, and physical means.

Attitudes Outcomes: (Students will)

A.A.1 Believe that it is possible for themselves to solve problems with a reasonable level of confidence.

A.A.2 Have confidence that they are able to ascertain information needed to help themselves think critically about a problem or issue.

A.A.3 Respect the diverse nature of thinking and problem solving that allows for others’ opinions and arguments to be taken into account without discrimination.

Skill Set B: Problem Solving Skills

B.K.1 Define convergent and divergent thinking.

B.K.2 State that for any given problem there is more than one problem solving strategy.

B.K.3 List possible problem solving strategies that exist.

B.K.4 State that problem solving strategies are used in context and explore the types of contexts that might exist.

B.K.5 Identify that for any problem solving strategy there must be an evaluative component and an ability to modify the strategy to fit a new context or problem.

B.S.1 Derive and model, illustrate, or describe a problem solving strategy that is context specific.

B.S.2 Derive and model a personal problem solving strategy to solve a personal problem.

B.S.3 Solve problems using mathematical reasoning.

B.S.4 Solve problems using technological means or supports.

B.S.5 Solve problems by modeling existing economic structures.

B.S.6 Solve problems by modeling existing political structures.

B.A.1 Have improved self-confidence in attempting to solve problems in a number of different contexts.

B.A.2 Be proud of the problem solving ability they have acquired.

B.A.3 Feel empowered to attempt new problem solving methods that are logical and relevant without fear of failure.

Skill Set C: Decision Making Skills

C.K.1 Identify that decision making is a process toward problem solving.

C.K.2 Identify personal bias in an argument.

C.K.3 State the difference between dialectic and rhetorical arguments.

C.K.4 Illustrate the types of decisions expected in personal, professional, and civic lives.

C.K.5 Describe the difference between rational and emotional expressions.

C.K.6 State and explain the difference between normative and naturalistic decision making.

C.K.7 Define the term dilemma.

C.K.8 State that the primary purpose of decision making is to decide on the best option, or provide maximum utility.

C.K.9 State that decision making can be made based on what is most consistent with personal beliefs or past experiences.

C.K.10 Identify that there is uncertainty and risk associated with every decision.

C.S.1 Construct a decision making process that includes identification, evidence, evaluation and modification of a problem.

C.S.2 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve personal problems.

C.S.3 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve professional problems.

C.S.4 Construct and apply a method of decision making to solve civic problems.

C.S.5 Examine positive and negative methods of modifying and changing decisions after they have been made.

C.S.6 Examine circumstances by which to modify, change, or renegotiate a decision.

Attitude Outcomes: (Students will)

C.A.1 Acknowledge that a commitment needs to be made upon making a decision.

C.A.2 Take ownership of decisions made using the decision making skills.

C.A.3 Understand that decisions require a course of action that is intended to yield results that are satisfying for special individuals.

C.A.4 Reflect on decisions made in their life and decide if they were appropriate or not.

Skill Set D: Communication Skills

Knowledge outcomes: (students will be able to).

D.K.1 Identify factors affecting communication.

D.K.2 State that communication involves more than one person.

D.K.3 Identify and explore the roles of speaker and listener in any conversation.

D.K.4 List and explore different environments involving communication (i.e.; formal language vs. slang, workplace vs. home life).

D.K.5 Describe the difference between teamwork and collaboration.

D.K.6 Describe what effective and ineffective communication looks, sounds, and feels like.

D.K.7 Explain the role of respect, honesty, fairness, and reason in any communication interaction.

D.S.1 Model and illustrate different conflict resolution strategies.

D.S.2 Identify and illustrate factors affecting teamwork.

D.S.3 Communicate effectively with peers while working collaboratively as a team.

D.S.4 Communicate effectively with teachers and parents regarding conflicts and successes.

D.S.5 Communicate clearly, logically, and precisely in verbal and written modes.

D.S.6 Ask and accept help in communicating when needed.

D.A.1 Feel empowered to communicate with peers.

D.A.2 Have confidence in the skill of communicating to discuss difficult issues with parents, teachers, and employers.

D.A.3 Feel empowered to ask and accept help by communicating in an appropriate fashion without fear of rejection or judgment.

Course Assessment

The assessment for this course is by way of individual student improvement in conjunction with final skill aptitude of the above stated skill sets by course end. This improvement and aptitude can be measured through a number of different means and will depend on the structure of the course as arranged and organized by the teacher. Outlined below are some classroom activities and possible assessments that might be of benefit to teachers planning this course.


A pre and post written statement of the intention for being in the course and the problems and skills a student would like to solve and understand.

Assessed formatively (both pre and post) for critical thinking skills such as clarity of work, logic, reasoning, and evidence provided.

Pre and post formative assessments then evaluated for level of improvement.

Debate as a form of argument, decision making, communication and problem solving.

Following and respecting debate rules and roles of speaker/listener.

Utilizing rubrics for argument, decision making, communication and problem solving.

Market modeling—modeling the course as a competitive market with students given roles based on an application from them on their expertise and motivation toward the given problem. The roles would dictate a level of income for the student as well as a level of responsibility and leadership for them.

Assessed by way of improvement and movement ‘up the market ladder’—i.e.—what by way of promotion, what conflict resolution strategies or problems needed to be overcome, how long did it take to resolve or solve the problem?

Take into account rationale for why students have chosen their particular role (provided this rationale is given in a clear, appropriate, relevant, and significant manner)—i.e. standard of living, other priorities at the time etc.

Socratic Seminar on issue at hand to interpret and illustrate improvement in speaking and communicating an argument.

Assessed by way of quality and strength of participation and argument.

Resume of students skills ascertained and improved on through the course.

Cross curricular problems and projects modeling real life i.e. effects of globalization, and marketization on students by multinational companies. Projects to be displayed and presented to the class.

Assessed by way of rubrics (teacher and peer).

Likert scale survey for teacher and student on level of improvement of outcomes throughout the course.

Utilization of pre-existing rubrics i.e. Decision Making (Jonassen 2012 ).

Cornell CT Test level X for critical thinking as a pre and post test? (a quantitative assessment ordered from ) (Ennis and Millman 1985 ).

Assessment strategies as well as possible outcomes for skill-sets can be found in Greenstein’s ( 2012 ), Assessing 21st Century Skills: A guide to evaluating mastery and authentic learning .

It is expected that all students will learn skill-set outcomes through the duration of the course. The question is how much will be learned? The answer depends on the individual student as well as their incoming skill level in each given area. In this case equal does not mean equitable and the goal of assessment for this course is to ascertain what improvement as well as final level of understanding an individual student has.

It should be stated that the nature of the course is student-centered and driven by the student. The teacher, however, is responsible for setting up the course and providing students an opportunity to explore this learning. Therefore, the teacher must come up with valid, rich, open activities for students to work within while at the same time ideally allowing the students to come up with the problems, scenarios, and arguments with which to discuss and solve. Explicit instruction may be necessary but should be severely limited allowing students ample opportunity for application and practice.

It is highly recommended that students work the duration of this course in groups (and differing groups) as it is here that communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills will be developed. It is further recommended that students be a part of the assessment process in deciding on the nature of the assessments, the criteria for the assessment, and in self and peer assessment. Allowing students to direct and lead requires trust and openness on the part of the teacher but is in fact part of the learning process.

Learning Resources

Since the premise of this course is for the teacher to be a ‘guide on the side’ and not a ‘sage on the stage’, there are no required learning resources for this course. However, it is recommended that teachers undertake professional development in the skill-set areas to ensure they have developed the necessary skills to pass on. Books such as: Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher by Brookfield, Learning to Solve Problems: A Handbook for Designing Problem - Solving Learning Environments by Jonassen, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Crucial Conversations, and The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking would be an introduction. Journal articles and professional publications regarding 21st century skills and the development of these would be helpful. Finally, professional development seminars or sessions by leading experts such as Richard Paul from The Foundation for Critical Thinking would be almost necessary.

From this learning, the teacher will need to develop a tool kit of resources at their disposal in which to best help their students. The nature of the course being student-centered will require a teacher to be flexible in the work that is undertaken. The teacher will also have to be reactive to issues, problems, and learning scenarios that take place in the classroom. However, as this is a course in allowing the students to ascertain skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and communication, it must be mentioned that it is the students who are doing the brunt of the work and actually doing the problem solving and critical thinking themselves. For instance, it would not be sufficient for a question to be: What book should we read to learn critical thinking? And have the answer to the problem be: go ask the teacher and he/she will tell us. Rather the answer should be: let us go to the library or use the internet and find out which book is the best book. What options are available? What type of critical thinking are we looking at? What is critical thinking? Who are the leading experts in the field? What bias do they have? Where can I actually find or order these books? What cost and what is my budget? In the end, a seemingly simple question—is wrought with learning experiences by the student provided the teacher take a backburner to the work and allow the student to take the reins.

Course Evaluation

The open nature of this course allows for a teacher at any time to make changes to the structure, organization, and assessment of the course due to evaluation and reflection. The evaluation and reflection of this course should therefore be ongoing by the student and teacher immersed in the learning environment. The teacher is responsible for periodically seeking feedback from students regarding the nature of the course, as well as professionally reflecting themselves on the presentation of the course to their students.

The teacher is also responsible for keeping records of the course, as well as feedback collected that identifies the (a) strengths and weaknesses of the course as it is being facilitated, (b) activities and assessments being implemented in the course, and (c) improvements to the course for a later date. The teacher should ideally create a long range plan (or running calendar) that becomes more descriptive as the course proceeds, about the level of difficulty, quality of problems, activities, resources, feedback, and assessments being utilized in the course to reference at a later date. Finally, the teacher should be able to provide evidence to the local school authority at any time in order for the authority to monitor, evaluate, and report progress should it be required.

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Carlgren, T. Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course for All High School Students in the 21st Century. Interchange 44 , 63–81 (2013).

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Received : 19 April 2013

Accepted : 21 November 2013

Published : 05 December 2013

Issue Date : December 2013


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Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration: Assessment, Certification, and Promotion of 21st Century Skills for the Future of Work and Education

Branden thornhill-miller.

1 Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6GG, UK

2 International Institute for Competency Development, 75001 Paris, France

Anaëlle Camarda

3 LaPEA, Université Paris Cité and Univ Gustave Eiffel, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt, France

4 Institut Supérieur Maria Montessori, 94130 Nogent-Sur-Marne, France

Maxence Mercier

Jean-marie burkhardt.

5 LaPEA, Univ Gustave Eiffel and Université Paris Cité, CEDEX, 78008 Versailles, France

Tiffany Morisseau

6 Strane Innovation, 91190 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

Samira Bourgeois-Bougrine

Florent vinchon, stephanie el hayek.

7 AFNOR International, 93210 Saint-Denis, France

Myriam Augereau-Landais

Florence mourey, cyrille feybesse.

8 Centre Hospitalier Guillaume Regnier, Université de Rennes 1, 35200 Rennes, France

Daniel Sundquist

Todd lubart, associated data.

Not Applicable.

This article addresses educational challenges posed by the future of work, examining “21st century skills”, their conception, assessment, and valorization. It focuses in particular on key soft skill competencies known as the “4Cs”: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. In a section on each C, we provide an overview of assessment at the level of individual performance, before focusing on the less common assessment of systemic support for the development of the 4Cs that can be measured at the institutional level (i.e., in schools, universities, professional training programs, etc.). We then present the process of official assessment and certification known as “labelization”, suggesting it as a solution both for establishing a publicly trusted assessment of the 4Cs and for promoting their cultural valorization. Next, two variations of the “International Institute for Competency Development’s 21st Century Skills Framework” are presented. The first of these comprehensive systems allows for the assessment and labelization of the extent to which development of the 4Cs is supported by a formal educational program or institution. The second assesses informal educational or training experiences, such as playing a game. We discuss the overlap between the 4Cs and the challenges of teaching and institutionalizing them, both of which may be assisted by adopting a dynamic interactionist model of the 4Cs—playfully entitled “Crea-Critical-Collab-ication”—for pedagogical and policy-promotion purposes. We conclude by briefly discussing opportunities presented by future research and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

1. Introduction

There are many ways of describing the massive educational challenges faced in the 21st century. With the appearance of computers and digital technologies, new means of interacting between people, and a growing competitiveness on the international level, organizations are now requiring new skills from their employees, leaving educational systems struggling to provide appropriate ongoing training. Indeed, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 “Future of Jobs Report”, studying 15 industries in 26 advanced and emerging countries, up to 50% of employees will need some degree of “reskilling” by 2025 ( World Economic Forum 2020 ). Although many national and international educational efforts and institutions now explicitly put the cultivation of new kinds of skills on their educational agendas, practical means of assessing such skills remains underdeveloped, thus hampering the valorization of these skills and the development of guidance for relevant pedagogy ( Care et al. 2018 ; Vincent-Lancrin et al. 2019 ; for overviews and discussion of higher education in global developmental context, see Blessinger and Anchan 2015 ; Salmi 2017 ).

This article addresses some of these challenges and related issues for the future of education and work, by focusing on so-called “21st Century Skills” and key “soft skills” known as the “4Cs” (creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration), more particularly. It begins with a brief discussion of these skills, outlining their conceptual locations and potential roles in the modern educational context. A section on each “C” then follows, defining the C, summarizing research and methods for its scientific assessment at the individual level, and then outlining some means and avenues at the systemic level for fostering its development (e.g., important aspects of curriculum, institutional structure, or of the general environment, as well as pedagogical methods) that might be leveraged by an institution or program in order to promote the development of that C among its students/trainees. In the next section, the certification-like process of “labelization” is outlined and proposed as one of the best available solutions both for valorizing the 4Cs and moving them towards the center of the modern educational enterprise, as well as for benchmarking and monitoring institutions’ progress in fostering their development. The International Institute for Competency Development’s 4Cs Framework is then outlined as an example of such a comprehensive system for assessing and labelizing the extent to which educational institutions and programs support the development of the 4Cs. We further demonstrate the possibility of labelizing and promoting support for the development of the 4Cs by activities or within less formal educational settings, presenting a second framework for assessment of the 4Cs in games and similar training activities. Our discussion section begins with the challenges to implementing educational change in the direction of 21st century skills, focusing on the complex and overlapping nature of the 4Cs. Here, we propose that promoting a “Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs” not only justifies grouping them together, but it might also assist more directly with some of the challenges of pedagogy, assessment, policy promotion, and ultimately, institutionalization, faced by the 4Cs and related efforts to modernize education. We conclude by suggesting some important future work for the 4Cs individually and also as an interrelated collective of vital skills for the future of education and work.

“21st Century Skills”, “Soft Skills”, and the “4Cs”

For 40 years, so-called “21st century skills” have been promoted as those necessary for success in a modern work environment that the US Army War College ( Barber 1992 ) has accurately described as increasingly “VUCA”—“volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”. Various lists of skills and competencies have been formulated on their own or as part of comprehensive overarching educational frameworks. Although a detailed overview of this background material is outside the scope of this article (see Lamri et al. 2022 ; Lucas 2022 for summaries), one of the first prominent examples of this trend was the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), whose comprehensive “Framework for 21st Century Learning” is presented in Figure 1 ( Battelle for Kids 2022 ). This framework for future-oriented education originated the idea of the “4Cs”, placing them at its center and apex as “Learning and Innovation Skills” that are in need of much broader institutional support at the foundational level in the form of new standards and assessments, curriculum and instructional development, ongoing professional development, and appropriately improved learning environments ( Partnership for 21st Century Skills 2008 ). These points are also consistent with the approach and assessment frameworks presented later in this article.

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The P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. (© 2019, Battelle for Kids. All Rights Reserved. ; accessed on 17 January 2023).

Other important organizations such as the World Economic Forum ( 2015 ) have produced similar overarching models of “21st century skills’’ with the 4Cs at their center, but the term “21st century skills’’ has been rightly criticized for a several reasons: the skills referred to are not actually all unique to, or uniquely important to, the 21st century, and it is a term that is often used more as an advertising or promotional label for systems that sometimes conflate and confuse different kinds of skills with other concepts that users lump together ( Lucas 2019 ). Indeed, though there is no absolute consensus on the definition of a “skill”, they are often described as being multidimensional and involve the ability to solve problems in context and to perform tasks using appropriate resources at the right time and in the right combination ( Lamri and Lubart 2021 ). At its simplest, a skill is a “learned capacity to do something useful” ( Lucas and Claxton 2009 ), or an ability to perform a given task at a specified performance level, which develops through practice, experience. and training ( Lamri et al. 2022 ).

The idea of what skills “are’’, however, has also evolved to some extent over time in parallel to the nature of the abilities required to make valued contributions to society. The digital and information age, in particular, has seen the replacement by machines of much traditional work sometimes referred to as “hard skills’’—skills such as numerical calculation or driving, budget-formulating, or copyediting abilities, which entail mastery of fixed sets of knowledge and know-how of standard procedures, and which are often learned on the job. Such skills are more routine, machine-related, or technically oriented and not as likely to be centered on human interaction. In contrast, the work that has been increasingly valued in the 21st century involves the more complex, human interactive, and/or non-routine skills that Whitmore ( 1972 ) first referred to as “soft skills”.

Unfortunately, researchers, educators, and consultants have defined, redefined, regrouped, and expanded soft skills—sometimes labeling them “transversal competencies”, “generic competencies”, or even “life skills” in addition to “21st century skills”—in so many different ways within and across different domains of research and education (as well as languages and national educational systems) that much progress towards these goals has literally been “lost in translation” ( Cinque 2016 ).

Indeed, there is also a long-standing ambiguity and confusion between the terms “competency” (also competence) and “skill” due to their use across different domains (e.g., learning research, education, vocational training, personnel selection) as well as different epistemological backgrounds and cultural specificities ( Drisko 2014 ; Winterton et al. 2006 ; van Klink and Boon 2003 ). The term “competency” is, however, often used as a broader concept that encompasses skills, abilities, and attitudes, whereas, in a narrower sense, the term “skill” has been defined as “goal-directed, well-organized behavior that is acquired through practice and performed with economy of effort” ( Proctor and Dutta 1995, p. 18 ). For example, whereas the command of a spoken language or the ability to write are skills (hard skills, to be precise), the ability to communicate effectively is a competence that may draw on an individual’s knowledge of language, writing skills, practical IT skills, and emotional intelligence, as well as attitudes towards those with whom one is communicating ( Rychen and Hersch 2003 ). Providing high-quality customer service is a competency that relies on listening skills, social perception skills, and contextual knowledge of products. Beyond these potential distinctions, the term “competency” is predominant in Europe, whereas “skill” is more commonly used in the US. Yet it also frequently occurs that both are used as rough synonyms. For example, Voogt and Roblin ( 2012, p. 299 ) examine the “21st century competences and the recommended strategies for the implementation of these skills”, and Graesser et al. ( 2022, p. 568 ) state that twenty-first-century skills “include self-regulated learning, collaborative problem solving, communication (…) and other competencies”. In conclusion, the term “competencies” is often used interchangeably with “skills” (and can have a particularly large overlap with “soft skills”), but it is also often considered in a broader sense as a set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that, together, meet a complex demand ( Ananiadoui and Claro 2009 ). From this perspective, one could argue that the 4Cs, as complex, “higher-order” soft skills, might best be labeled competencies. For ease and convenience, however, in this text, we consider the two terms interchangeable but favor the term “skills”, only using “competency” in some instances to avoid cumbersome repetition.

Even having defined soft skills as a potentially more narrow and manageable focus, we are still aware of no large-scale study that has employed a comprehensive enough range of actual psychometric measures of soft skills in a manner that might help produce a definitive empirical taxonomy. Some more recent taxonomic efforts have, however, attempted to provide additional empirical grounding for the accurate identification of key soft skills (see e.g., Joie-La Marle et al. 2022 ). Further, recent research by JobTeaser (see Lamri et al. 2022 ) surveying a large, diverse sample of young workers about a comprehensive, systematic list of soft skills as actually used in their professional roles represents a good step towards some clarification and mapping of this domain on an empirical basis. Despite the fact that both these studies necessarily involved assumptions and interpretive grouping of variables, the presence and importance of the 4Cs as higher-order skills is evident in both sets of empirical results.

Various comprehensive “21st century skills” systems proposed in the past without much empirical verification also seem to have been found too complex and cumbersome for implementation. The 4Cs, on the other hand, seem to provide a relatively simple, persuasive, targetable core that has been found to constitute a pedagogically and policy-friendly model by major organizations, and that also now seems to be gaining some additional empirical validity. Gathering support from researchers and industry alike, we suggest that the 4Cs can be seen as highest-level transversal skills—or “meta-competencies”—that allow individuals to remain competent and to develop their potential in a rapidly changing professional world. Thus, in the end, they may also be one of the most useful ways of summarizing and addressing the critical challenges faced by the future of work and education ( National Education Association 2011 ).

Taking them as our focus, we note, however, that the teaching and development of the 4Cs will require a complex intervention and mobilization of educational and socio-economic resources—both a major shift in pedagogical techniques and even more fundamental changes in institutional structures ( Ananiadoui and Claro 2009 ). One very important issue for understanding the 4Cs and their educational implementation related to this, which can simultaneously facilitate their teaching but be a challenge for their assessment, is the multidimensionality, interrelatedness, and transdisciplinary relevance of the 4Cs. Thus, we address the relationships between the Cs in the different C sections and later in our Discussion, we present a “Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs’’ that we hope will assist in their understanding, in the further development of pedagogical processes related to them, and in their public promotion and related policy. Ultimately, it is partly due to their complexity and interrelationships, we argue, that it is important and expedient that the 4Cs are taught, assessed, and promoted together.

2. The 4Cs, Assessment, and Support for Development

2.1. creativity.

In psychology, creativity is usually defined as the capacity to produce novel, original work that fits with task constraints and has value in its context (for a recent overview, see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ). This basic definition, though useful for testing and measurement, is largely incomplete, as it does not contain any information about the individual or groups doing the creating or the nature of physical and social contexts ( Glăveanu 2014 ). Moreover, Corazza ( 2016 ) challenged this standard definition of creativity, arguing that as it focuses solely on the existence of an original and effective outcome, it misses the dynamics of the creative process, which is frequently associated with periods of creative inconclusiveness and limited occasions of creative achievements. To move away from the limitations of the standard definition of creativity, we can consider Bruner’s description of creativity as “figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think” (p. 183 in Weick 1993 ). This description echoes the notion of potential, which refers to a latent state that may be put to use if a person has the opportunity.

Creativity is a multifaceted phenomenon that can be approached from many different angles. There are three main frameworks for creativity studies: the 4Ps ( Rhodes 1961 ), the 5As ( Glăveanu 2013 ), and the 7Cs model ( Lubart 2017 ). These frameworks share at least four fundamental and measurable dimensions: the act of creating (process), the outcome of the creative process (product), the characteristics of creative actor(s) enacting the process (person), and the social and physical environment that enable or hinder the creative process (press). Contrary to many traditional beliefs, however, creativity can be trained and taught in a variety of different ways, both through direct, active teaching of creativity concepts and techniques and through more passive and indirect means such as the development of creativity-supporting contexts ( Chiu 2015 ; Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 ). Alongside intelligence, with which it shares some common mechanisms, creativity is now recognized as an indispensable element for the flexibility and adaptation of individuals in challenging situations ( Sternberg 1986 ).

2.1.1. Individual Assessment of Creativity

Drawing upon previous efforts to structure creativity research, Batey ( 2012 ) proposed a taxonomic framework for creativity measurement that takes the form of a three-dimensional matrix: (a) the level at which creativity may be measured (the individual, the team, the organization, and the culture), (b) the facets of creativity that may be assessed (person/trait, process, press, and product), and (c) the measurement approach (objective, self-rating, other ratings). It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a literature review of all these dimensions, but for the purposes of this paper, we address some important aspects of individual-level and institutional-level assessment here.

Assessing creativity at an individual level encompasses two major approaches: (1) creative accomplishment based on production and (2) creative potential. Regarding the first approach focusing on creative accomplishment , there are at least four main assessment techniques (or tools representing variations of assessment techniques): (a) the historiometric approach, which applies quantitative analysis to historically available data (such as the number of prizes won or times cited) in an effort to understand eminent, field-changing creativity ( Simonton 1999 ); (b) the Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT) ( Amabile 1982 ), which offers a method for combining and validating judges’ subjective evaluations of a set of (potentially) creative productions or ideas; (c) the Creative Achievement Questionnaire ( Carson et al. 2005 ), which asks individuals to supply a self-reported assessment of their publicly recognizable achievement in ten different creative domains; and (d) the Inventory of Creative Activities and Achievements (ICAA) ( Jauk et al. 2014 ; Diedrich et al. 2018 ), which includes self-report scales assessing the frequency of engagement in creative activity and also levels of achievement in eight different domains.

The second major approach to individual assessment is based on creative potential, which measures the cognitive abilities and/or personality traits that are important for creative work. The two most popular assessments of creative potential are the Remote Associations Test (RAT) and the Alternative Uses Task (AUT). The RAT, which involves identifying the fourth word that is somehow associated with each of three given words, underscores the role that the ability to convergently associate disparate ideas plays as a key capacity for creativity. In contrast, the AUT, which requires individuals to generate a maximum number of ideas based on a prompt (e.g., different uses for a paperclip), is used to assess divergent thinking capacity. According to multivariate models of creative potential ( Lubart et al. 2013 ), there are cognitive factors (e.g., divergent thinking, mental flexibility, convergent thinking, associative thinking, selective combination), conative factors (openness, tolerance of ambiguity, intuitive thinking, risk taking, motivation to create), and environmental factors that all support creativity. Higher creative potential is predicted by having more of the ingredients for creativity. However, multiple different profiles among a similar set of these important ingredients exist, and their weighting for optimal creative potential varies according to the profession, the domain, and the task under consideration. For example, Lubart and Thornhill-Miller ( 2021 ) and Lubin et al. ( forthcoming ) have taken this creativity profiling approach, exploring the identification and training of the components of creative potential among lawyers and clinical psychologists, respectively. For a current example of this sort of comprehensive, differentiated measurement of creative potential in adults in different domains and professions, see For a recent battery of tests that are relevant for children, including domain-relevant divergent-exploratory and convergent-integrative tasks, see Lubart et al. ( 2019 ). Underscoring the growing recognition of the importance of creativity assessment, measures of creative potential for students were introduced internationally for the first time in the PISA 2022 assessment ( OECD 2019a ).

2.1.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Creativity

The structural support that institutions and programs can provide to promote the development of creativity can be described as coming through three main paths: (1) through design of the physical environment in a manner that supports creativity, (2) through teaching about creativity, the creative process, and creativity techniques, and (3) through training opportunities to help students/employees develop personal habits, characteristics, and other ingredients associated with creative achievement and potential.

Given the multi-dimensionality of the notion of creativity, the environment can positively influence and help develop creative capacities. Studies have shown that the physical environment in which individuals work can enhance their positive emotions and mood and thus their creativity. For example, stimulating working environments might have unusual furniture and spaces that have natural light, windows open to nature, plants and flowers, a relaxing atmosphere and colors in the room (e.g., green and blue), or positive sounds (e.g., calm music or silence), as well as inspiring and energizing colors (e.g., yellow, pink, orange). Furthermore, the arrangement of physical space to promote interpersonal exchange rather than isolation, as well as the presence of tools, such as whiteboards, that support and show the value of exchange, are also important (for reviews, see Dul and Ceylan 2011 ; Samani et al. 2014 ).

Although it has been claimed that “creativity is intelligence having fun” ( Scialabba 1984 ; Reiman 1992 ), for most people, opportunities for fun and creativity, especially in their work environment, appear rather limited. In fact, the social and physical environment often hinders creativity. Corazza et al. ( 2021 )’s theoretical framework concerning the “Space-Time Continuum”, related to support for creativity, suggests that traditional education systems are an example of an environment that is “tight” both in the conceptual “space” it affords for creativity and in the available time allowed for creativity to happen—essentially leaving little room for original ideas to emerge. Indeed, though world-wide data suggest that neither money nor mere time spent in class correlate well with educational outcomes, both policies and pedagogy that direct the ways in which time is spent make a significant difference ( Schleicher 2022 ). Research and common sense suggest that teachers, students, and employees need more space and time to invest energy in the creative process and the development of creative potential.

Underscoring the importance of teaching the creative process and creativity techniques is the demonstration, in a number of contexts, that groups of individuals who generate ideas without a specific method are often negatively influenced by their social environment. For example, unless guarded against, the presence of others tends to reduce the number of ideas generated and to induce a fixation on a limited number of ideas conforming to those produced by others ( Camarda et al. 2021 ; Goldenberg and Wiley 2011 ; Kohn and Smith 2011 ; Paulus and Dzindolet 1993 ; Putman and Paulus 2009 ; Rietzschel et al. 2006 ). To overcome these cognitive and social biases, different variants of brainstorming techniques have shown positive effects (for reviews of methods, see Al-Samarraie and Hurmuzan 2018 ; Paulus and Brown 2007 ). These include: using ( Osborn 1953 ) initial brainstorming rules (which aim to reduce spontaneous self-judgment of ideas and fear of this judgment by others); drawing attention to ideas generated by others by writing them down independently (e.g., the technique known as “brainwriting”); and requiring incubation periods between work sessions by forcing members of a problem-solving group to take breaks ( Paulus and Yang 2000 ; Paulus and Kenworthy 2019 ).

It is also possible to use design methods that are structured to guide the creative process and the exploration of ideas, as well as to avoid settling on uncreative solution paths ( Chulvi et al. 2012 ; Edelman et al. 2022 ; Kowaltowski et al. 2010 ; see Cotter et al. 2022 for a valuable survey of best practices for avoiding the suppression of creativity and fostering creative interaction and metacognition in the classroom). Indeed, many helpful design thinking-related programs now exist around the world and have been shown to have a substantial impact on creative outcomes ( Bourgeois-Bougrine 2022 ).

Research and experts suggest the utility of many additional creativity enhancement techniques (see, e.g., Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 ), and the largest and most rapid effects are often attributed to these more method- or technique-oriented approaches ( Scott et al. 2004 ). More long-term institutional and environmental support for the development of creativity, however, should also include targeted training and understanding of personality and emotional traits associated with the “creative person” (e.g., empathy and exploratory habits that can expand knowledge, as well as increase tolerance of ambiguity, openness, and mental flexibility; see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2021 ). Complementing these approaches and focusing on a more systemic level, recent work conducted by the OECD exemplifies efforts aimed to foster creativity (and critical thinking) by focusing simultaneously on curriculum, educational activities, and teacher support and development at the primary, secondary, and higher education levels (see Vincent-Lancrin et al. 2019 ; Saroyan 2022 ).

2.2. Critical Thinking

Researchers, teachers, employers, and public policymakers around the world have long ranked the development of critical thinking (CT) abilities as one of the highest educational priorities and public needs in modern democratic societies ( Ahern et al. 2019 ; Dumitru et al. 2018 ; Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ). CT is central to better outcomes in daily life and general problem solving ( Hitchcock 2020 ), to intelligence and adaptability ( Halpern and Dunn 2021 ), and to academic achievement ( Ren et al. 2020 ). One needs to be aware of distorted or erroneous information in the media, of the difference between personal opinions and proven facts, and how to handle increasingly large bodies of information required to understand and evaluate information in the modern age.

Although much research has addressed both potentially related constructs, such as intelligence and wisdom, and lists of potential component aspects of human thought, such as inductive or deductive reasoning (for reviews of all of these, see Sternberg and Funke 2019 ), reaching a consensus on a definition has been difficult, because CT relies on the coordination of many different skills ( Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Dumitru et al. 2018 ) and is involved in, and sometimes described from the perspective of, many different domains ( Lewis and Smith 1993 ). Furthermore, as a transversal competency, having the skills to perform aspects of critical thinking in a given domain does not necessarily entail also having the metacognitive ability to know when to engage in which of its aspects, or having the disposition, attitude, or “mindset” that motivates one to actually engage in them—all of which are actually required to be a good critical thinker ( Facione 2011 ).

As pointed out by the American Philosophical Association’s consensus definition, the ideal “critical thinker” is someone who is inquisitive, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded, and keeps well-informed, thus understanding different points of view and perspectives ( Facione 1990b ). These characteristics, one might note, are also characteristic of the “creative individual” ( Facione 1990b ; Lai 2011 ), as is the ability to imagine alternatives, which is often cited as a component of critical thinking ability ( Facione 1990b ; Halpern 1998 ). Conversely, creative production in any domain needs to be balanced by critical appraisal and thought at each step of the creative process ( Bailin 1988 ). Indeed, it can be argued that creativity and critical thinking are inextricably linked and are often two sides of the same coin. Representing different aspects of “good thought” that are linked and develop in parallel, it seems reasonable that they should, in practice, be taught and considered together in teaching and learning ( Paul and Elder 2006 ).

Given its complexity, many definitions of critical thinking have been offered. However, some more recent work has helpfully defined critical thinking as “the capacity of assessing the epistemic quality of available information and—as a consequence of this assessment—of calibrating one’s confidence in order to act upon such information” ( Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ). This definition, unlike others proposed in the field (for a review, see: Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Liu et al. 2014 ), is specific (i.e., it limits the use of poorly defined concepts), as well as consensual and operational (i.e., it has clear and direct implications for the education and assessment of critical thinking skills; Pasquinelli et al. 2021 ; Pasquinelli and Bronner 2021 ). Thus, this approach assumes that individuals possess better or worse cognitive processes and strategies that make it possible to judge the reliability of the information received, by determining, for example, what the arguments provided actually are. Are the arguments convincing? Is the source of information identifiable and reliable? Does the information conflict with other information held by the individual?

It should also be noted that being able to apply critical thinking is necessary to detect and overcome the cognitive biases that can constrain one’s reasoning. Indeed, when solving a problem, it is widely recognized that people tend to automate the application of strategies that are usually relevant in similar and analogous situations that have already been encountered. However, these heuristics (i.e., automatisms) can be a source of errors, in particular, in tricky reasoning situations, as demonstrated in the field of reasoning, arithmetic problems ( Kahneman 2003 ) or even divergent thinking tasks ( Cassotti et al. 2016 ; for a review of biases, see Friedman 2017 ). Though some cognitive biases can even be seen as normal ways of thinking and feeling, sometimes shaping human beliefs and ideologies in ways that make it completely normal—and even definitely human— not to be objective (see Thornhill-Miller and Millican 2015 ), the mobilization of cognitive resources such as those involved in critical reasoning on logical bases usually makes it possible to overcome cognitive biases and adjust one’s reasoning ( West et al. 2008 ).

According to Pasquinelli et al. ( 2021 ), young children already possess cognitive functions underlying critical thinking, such as the ability to determine that information is false. However, until late adolescence, studies have demonstrated an underdevelopment of executive functions involved in resistance to biased reasoning ( Casey et al. 2008 ) as well as some other higher-order skills that underlie the overall critical thinking process ( Bloom 1956 ). According to Facione and the landmark American Philosophical Association’s task force on critical thinking ( Facione 1990b ; Facione 2011 ), these components of critical thinking can be organized into six measurable skills: the ability to (1) interpret information (i.e., meaning and context); (2) analyze information (i.e., make sense of why this information has been provided, identify pro and con arguments, and decide whether we can accept the conclusion of the information); (3) make inferences (i.e., determine the implications of the evidence, its reliability, the undesirable consequences); (4) evaluate the strength of the information (i.e., its credibility, determine the trust in the person who provides it); (5) provide explanations (i.e., summarize the findings, determine how the information can be interpreted, and offer verification of the reasoning); (6) self-regulate (i.e., evaluate the strength of the methods applied, determine the conflict between different conclusions, clarify the conclusions, and verify missing elements).

2.2.1. Individual Assessment of Critical Thinking

The individual assessment of critical thinking skills presents a number of challenges, because it is a multi-task ability and involves specific knowledge in the different areas in which it is applied ( Liu et al. 2014 ; Willingham 2008 ). However, the literature provides several tools with which to measure different facets of cognitive functions and skills involved in the overarching critical thinking process ( Lai 2011 ; Liu et al. 2014 ). Most assessments involve multiple-choice questions requiring reasoning within a particular situation based upon a constrained set of information provided. For example, in one of the most widely used tests, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test ( Facione 1990a ), participants are provided with everyday scenarios and have to answer multiple questions targeting the six higher-order skills described previously. Similarly, the Watson–Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal ( Watson 1980 ; Watson and Glaser 2010 ) presents test takers with passages and scenarios measuring their competencies at recognizing assumptions, evaluating arguments, and drawing conclusions. Although the Watson–Glaser is one of the oldest and most frequently used assessments internationally for hiring and promotion in professional contexts, its construct validity, like many other measures of this challenging topic, has some limitations ( Possin 2014 ).

Less frequently, case study or experiential methods of assessment are also used. This approach may involve asking participants to reflect on past experiences, analyze the situations they faced and the way they behaved or made judgments and decisions and then took action ( Bandyopadhyay and Szostek 2019 ; Brookfield 1997 ). These methods, often employed by teachers or employers on students and employees, usually involve the analysis of qualitative data that can cast doubt on the reliability of the results. Consequently, various researchers have suggested ways to improve analytic methods, and they emphasize the need to create more advanced evaluation methods ( Brookfield 1997 ; Liu et al. 2014 ).

For example, Liu et al. ( 2014 ) reviewed current assessment methods and suggest that future work improves the operational definition of critical thinking, aiming to assess it both in different specific contexts and in different formats. Specifically, assessments could be contextualized within the major areas addressed by education programs (e.g., social sciences, humanities, and/or natural sciences), and the tasks themselves should be as practically connected to the “real world” as possible (e.g., categorizing a set of features, opinions, or facts based on whether or not they support an initial statement). Moreover, as Brookfield ( 1997 ) argues, because critical thinking is a social process that takes place in specific contexts of knowledge and culture, it should be assessed as a social process, therefore, involving a multiplicity of experiences, perceptions, and contributions. Thus, Brookfield makes three recommendations for improving the assessment of critical thinking that are still relevant today: (1) to assess critical thinking in specific situations, so one can study the process and the discourse related to it; (2) to involve students/peers in the evaluation of critical thinking abilities, so that the evaluation is not provided only by the instructor; and (3) to allow learners or participants in an experiment to document, demonstrate, and justify their engagement in critical thinking, because this learning perspective can provide insight into basic dimensions of the critical thinking process.

Finally, another more recent and less widely used form of assessment targets the specific executive functions that underlie logical reasoning and resistance to cognitive biases, as well as the ability of individuals to resist these biases. This form of assessment is usually done through specific experimental laboratory tasks that vary depending on the particular executive function and according to the domain of interest ( Houdé and Borst 2014 ; Kahneman 2011 ; West et al. 2008 ).

2.2.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Critical Thinking Skills

The executive functions underlying general critical thinking, the ability to overcome bias ( Houdé 2000 ; Houdé and Borst 2014 ), and meta-cognitive processes (i.e., meta information about our cognitive strategies) can all be trained and enhanced by educational programs ( Abrami et al. 2015 ; Ahern et al. 2019 ; Alsaleh 2020 ; Bellaera et al. 2021 ; Uribe-Enciso et al. 2017 ; Popil 2011 ; Pasquinelli and Bronner 2021 ; Yue et al. 2017 ).

Educational programs and institutions can support the development of critical thinking in several different ways. The process of developing critical thinking focuses on the interaction between personal dispositions (attitudes and habits), skills (evaluation, reasoning, self-regulation), and finally, knowledge (general and specific knowledge, as well as experience) ( Thomas and Lok 2015 ). It is specifically in regard to skills and knowledge that institutions are well suited to develop critical thinking through pedagogical elements such as rhetoric training, relevance of information evaluation (e.g., media literacy, where and how to check information on the internet, dealing with “fake news”, etc.), deductive thinking skills, and inductive reasoning ( Moore and Parker 2016 ). A few tools, such as case studies or concept mapping, can also be used in conjunction with a problem-based learning method, both in individual and team contexts and in person or online ( Abrami et al. 2015 ; Carmichael and Farrell 2012 ; Popil 2011 ; Thorndahl and Stentoft 2020 ). According to Marin and Halpern ( 2011 ), training critical thinking should include explicit instruction involving at least the four following components and objectives: (1) working on attitudes and encouraging individuals to think; (2) teaching and practicing critical thinking skills; (3) training for transfer between contexts, identifying concrete situations in which to adopt the strategies learned; and (4) suggesting metacognition through reflection on one’s thought processes. Supporting these propositions, Pasquinelli and Bronner ( 2021 ), in a French national educational report, proposed practical advice for creating workshops to stimulate critical thinking in school classrooms, which appear relevant even in non-school intervention situations. For example, the authors suggest combining concrete examples and exercises with general and abstract explanations, rules and strategies, which can be transferred to other areas beyond the one studied. They also suggest inviting learners to create examples of situations (e.g., case studies) in order to increase the opportunities to practice and for the learner to actively participate. Finally, they suggest making the process of reflection explicit by asking the learner to pay attention to the strategies adopted by others in order to stimulate the development of metacognition.

2.3. Communication

In its most basic definition, communication consists of exchanging information to change the epistemic context of others. In cooperative contexts, it aims at the smooth and efficient exchange of information contributing to the achievement of a desired outcome or goal ( Schultz 2010 ). But human communication involves multiple dimensions. Both verbal and non-verbal communication can involve large quantities of information that have to be both formulated and deciphered with a range of purposes and intentions in mind ( Jones and LeBaron 2002 ). These dimensions of communication have as much to do with the ability to express oneself, both orally and in writing and the mastering of a language (linguistic competences), as with the ability to use this communication system appropriately (pragmatic skills; see Grassmann 2014 ; Matthews 2014 ), and with social skills, based on the knowledge of how to behave in society and on the ability to connect with others, to understand the intentions and perspectives of others ( Tomasello 2005 ).

Like the other 4Cs, according to most authorities, communication skills are ranked by both students and teachers as skills of the highest priority for acquisition in order to be ready for the workforce in 2030 ( OECD 2019b ; Hanover Research 2012 ). Teaching students how to communicate efficiently and effectively in all the new modalities of information exchange is an important challenge faced by all pedagogical organizations today ( Morreale et al. 2017 ). All dimensions of communication (linguistic, pragmatic, and social) are part of what is taught in school curricula at different levels. But pragmatic and social competencies are rarely explicitly taught as such. Work on social/emotional intelligence (and on its role in students’ personal and professional success) shows that these skills are both disparate and difficult to assess ( Humphrey et al. 2007 ). Research on this issue is, however, becoming increasingly rigorous, with the potential to provide usable data for the development of science-based practice ( Keefer et al. 2018 ). Teachers and pedagogical teams also have an important, changing role to play: they also need to master new information and communication technologies and the transmission of information through them ( Zlatić et al. 2014 ).

Communication has an obvious link with the three other Cs. Starting with critical thinking, sound communication implies fostering the conditions for a communicative exchange directed towards a common goal, which is, at least in educational and professional contexts, based on a fair evaluation of reality ( Pornpitakpan 2004 ). Collaboration too has a strong link with communication, because successful collaboration is highly dependent on the quality of knowledge sharing and trust that emerges between group members. Finally, creativity involves the communication of an idea to an audience and can involve high-quality communication when creative work occurs in a team context.

2.3.1. Individual Assessment of Communication

Given the vast field of communication, an exhaustive list of its evaluation methods is difficult to establish. A number of methods have been reported in the literature to assess an individual’s ability to communicate non-verbally and verbally. But although these two aspects are intrinsically linked, they are rarely measured together with a single tool. Moreover, as Spitzberg ( 2003 ) pointed out, communication skills are supported by different abilities, classically conceptualized as motivational functions (e.g., confidence and goal-orientation), knowledge (e.g., content and procedural knowledge), or cognitive and socio-cognitive functions (e.g., theory of mind, verbal cognition, emotional intelligence, and empathy; McDonald et al. 2014 ; Rothermich 2020 ), implying different specific types of evaluations. Finally, producing vs. receiving communication involve different skills and abilities, which can also vary according to the context ( Landa 2005 ).

To overcome these challenges, Spitzberg ( 2003 ) recommends the use of different assessment criteria. These criteria include the clarity of interaction, the understanding of what was involved in the interaction, the satisfaction of having interacted (expected to be higher when communication is effective), the efficiency of the interaction (the more competent someone is, the less effort, complexity, and resources will be needed to achieve their goal), its effectiveness or appropriateness (i.e., its relevance according to the context), as well as criteria relative to the quality of the dialogue (which involves coordination, cooperation, coherence, reciprocity, and mutuality in the exchange with others). Different forms of evaluation are also called for, such as self-reported questionnaires, hetero-reported questionnaires filled out by parents, teachers, or other observers, and tasks involving exposure to role-playing games, scenarios or videos (for a review of these assessment tools, see Cömert et al. 2016 ; Landa 2005 ; Sigafoos et al. 2008 ; Spitzberg 2003 ; van der Vleuten et al. 2019 ). Results from these tools must then be associated with others assessing underlying abilities, such as theory of mind and metacognition.

2.3.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Communication Skills

Although communication appears to be a key employability skill, the proficiency acquired during studies rarely meets the expectations of employers ( Jackson 2014 ). Communication must therefore become a priority in the training of students, beyond the sectors in which it is already known as essential (e.g., in medicine, nursing, engineering, etc.; Bourke et al. 2021 ; D’Alimonte et al. 2019 ; Peddle et al. 2018 ; Riemer 2007 ), and also through professional development ( Jackson 2014 ). Training programs involving, for example, communication theory classes ( Kruijver et al. 2000 ) and self-assessment tools that can be used in specific situations ( Curtis et al. 2013 ; Rider and Keefer 2006 ) have had convincingly positive results. The literature suggests that interactive approaches in small groups, in which competencies are practiced explicitly in an open and feedback-safe environment, are more effective ( Bourke et al. 2021 ; D’Alimonte et al. 2019 ; AbuSeileek 2012 ; Fryer-Edwards et al. 2006 ). These can take different forms: project-based work, video reviews, simulation or role-play games (see Hathaway et al. 2022 for a review; Schlegel et al. 2012 ). Finally, computer-assisted learning methods can be relevant for establishing a secure framework (especially, for example, when learning another language): anonymity indeed helps to overcome anxiety or social blockages linked to fear of public speaking or showing one’s difficulties ( AbuSeileek 2012 ). Each of these methods tackles one or more dimensions of communication that must then be assessed as such, by means of tools specifically developed and adapted to the contexts in which these skills are expressed (e.g., see the two 4Cs evaluation grids for institutions and for games outlined in Section 4 and Section 5 , below).

2.4. Collaboration

Collaborative problem solving—and more generally, collaboration—has gained increasing attention in national and international assessments (e.g., PISA) as an educational priority encompassing social, emotional, and cognitive skills critical to efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation in the modern global economy ( Graesser et al. 2018 ; OECD 2017 ). Understanding what makes effective collaboration is of crucial importance for professional practice and training ( Détienne et al. 2012 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ), as evidenced by the long line of research on group or team collaboration over the past 40 years (for a review, see e.g., Salas et al. 2004 ; Mathieu et al. 2017 ). Although there is no consensus on a definition of collaboration, scholars often see it as mutual engagement in a coordinated effort to achieve a common goal that involves the sharing of goals, resources, and representations relating to the joint activity of participants; and other important aspects relate to mutual respect, trust, responsibilities, and accountability within situational rules and norms ( Détienne et al. 2012 ).

In the teamwork research literature, skills are commonly described across three classes most often labeled Knowledge, Behavior, and Attitudes (e.g., Cannon-Bowers et al. 1995 ). Knowledge competencies refer to the skills related to elaborating the knowledge content required for the group to process and successfully achieve the task/goal to which they are assigned. Behavior includes skills related to the actualization of actions, coordination, communication, and interactions within the group as well as with any other relevant interlocutors for the task at hand. Note here that effective collaboration involves skills that have also been identified elsewhere as essential competencies, including communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Finally, several attitudes have been evidenced or hypothesized as desirable competencies in the team context, for example, attitude towards teamwork, collective orientation, cohesion/team morale, etc. Another common distinction lies between teamwork and taskwork. Teamwork refers to the collaborative, communicative, or social skills required to coordinate the work within the participants in order to achieve the task, whereas taskwork refers to specific aspects related to solving the task such as using the tools and knowing the procedure, policies, and any other task-related activities ( Salas et al. 2015 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ). Furthermore, collaborative competences can have specific (to a group of people or to a task) and general dimensions (i.e., easily transferable to any group or team situation and to other tasks). For example, skills related to communication, information exchange, conflict management, maintaining attention and motivation, leadership, etc. are present and transferable to a large number of group work situations and tasks (team-generic and task-contingent skills). Other skills can, on the other hand, be more specific to a team or group, such as internal organization, motivation, knowledge of the skills distributed in the team, etc.

2.4.1. Individual Assessment of Collaboration

Assessing collaboration requires capturing the dynamic and multi-level nature of the collaboration process, which is not as easily quantifiable as group/team inputs and outputs (task performance, satisfaction, and changes at group/team and individual level). There are indeed multiple interactions between the context, the collaboration processes, the task processes, and their (various) outcomes ( Détienne et al. 2012 ). The integrative concept of “quality of collaboration” ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ) encapsulates much of what is currently known about collaborative processes and what constitutes effective collaboration. According to this approach, collaborative processes can be grouped along several dimensions concerning communication processes such as grounding, task-related processes (e.g., exchanges of knowledge relevant for the task at hand), and organization/coordination processes ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ). Communication processes are most important for ensuring the construction of a common referential within a group of collaborators. Task-related processes relate to how the group resolves the task at hand by sharing and co-elaborating knowledge, by confronting their various perspectives, and by converging toward negotiated solutions. Collaboration also involves group management activities such as: (a) common goal management and coordination activities, e.g., allocation and planning of tasks; (b) meeting/interaction management activities, e.g., ordering and postponing of topics in the meeting. Finally, the ability to pursue reflexive activity, in the sense of reflecting not only on the content of a problem or solution but on one’s collaboration and problem-solving strategies, is critical for the development of the team and supports them in changing and improving their practices. Graesser et al. ( 2018 ) identify collaborative skills based on the combination of these dimensions with a step in the problem-solving process.

A large body of methodology developed to assess collaboration processes and collaborative tools has been focused on quantifying a restricted subset of fine-grained interactions (e.g., number of speakers’ turns; number of words spoken; number of interruptions; amount of grounding questions). This approach has at least two limitations. First, because these categories of analysis are often ad hoc with respect to the considered situation, they are difficult to apply in all situations and make it difficult to compare between studies. Second, quantitative variations of most of these indicators are non-univocal: any increase or decrease of them could signify either an interactive–intensive collaboration or else evidence of major difficulties in establishing and/or maintaining the collaboration ( Détienne et al. 2012 ). Alternatively, qualitative approaches based on multidimensional views of collaboration provide a more elaborated or nuanced view of collaboration and are useful for identifying potential relationships between distinctive dimensions of collaboration and aspects of team performance, in order to identify processes that could be improved. Based on the method of Spada et al. ( 2005 ) in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) research, Burkhardt et al. ( 2009 ) have proposed a multi-dimensional rating scheme for evaluating the quality of collaboration (QC) in technology-mediated design. QC distinguishes seven dimensions, grouped along five aspects, identified as central for collaboration in a problem-solving task such as design: communication (1, 2), task-oriented processes (3, 4), group-oriented processes (5), symmetry in interaction—an orthogonal dimension—(6), and individual task orientation (7). This method has recently been adapted for use in the context of assessing games as a support to collaborative skills learning.

2.4.2. Institutional and Environmental Support for Development of Collaboration and Collaborative Skills

Support for individuals’ development of collaborative skills provided by institutions and programs can take a variety of forms: (a) through the social impact of the physical structure of the organization, (b) the nature of the work required within the curriculum, (c) content within the curriculum focusing on collaboration and collaborative skills, and (d) the existence and promotion of extracurricular and inter-institutional opportunities for collaboration.

For instance, institutional support for collaboration has taken a variety of forms in various fields such as healthcare, engineering, public participation, and education. Training and education programs such as Interprofessional Education or Team Sciences in the health domain ( World Health Organization 2010 ; Hager et al. 2016 ; O’Carroll et al. 2021 ), Peer-Led Team Learning in chemistry and engineering domains ( Wilson and Varma-Nelson 2016 ), or Collaborative Problem Solving in education ( Peña-López 2017 ; Taddei 2009 ) are notable examples.

Contextual support recently arose from the deployment of online digital media and new mixed realities in the workplace, in the learning environments and in society at large—obviously stimulated and accentuated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led many organizations to invest in proposing support for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration (notably remote, between employees, between students and educators or within group members, etc.) in various ways, including the provision of communication hardware and software, computer-supported cooperative work and computer-supported collaborative learning platforms, training and practical guides, etc. Users can collaborate through heterogeneous hybrid collaborative interaction spaces that can be accessed through virtual or augmented reality, but also simple video conferencing or even a voice-only or text-only interface. These new spaces for collaboration are, however, often difficult to use and less satisfactory than face-to-face interactions, suggesting the need for more research on collaborative activities and on how to support them ( Faidley 2018 ; Karl et al. 2022 ; Kemp and Grieve 2014 ; Singh et al. 2022 ; Waizenegger et al. 2020 ).

A substantive body of literature on teams, collaborative learning, and computer-supported technologies provides evidence related to individual, contextual, and technological factors impacting the collaboration quality and efficiency. For example, teacher-based skills that are critical for enhancing collaboration are, among others, the abilities to plan, monitor, support, consolidate, and reflect upon student interaction in group work ( Kaendler et al. 2016 ). Research focuses also on investigating the most relevant tasks and evaluating the possibilities offered by technology to support, to assess (e.g., Nouri et al. 2017 ; Graesser et al. 2018 ), and/or to learn the skills involved in pursuing effective and satisfying collaboration (see e.g., Schneider et al. 2018 ; Doyle 2021 ; Ainsworth and Chounta 2021 ).

3. Labelization: Valorization of the 4Cs and Assessing Support for Their Development

Moving from the nature of the 4Cs and their individual assessment and towards the ways in which institutions can support their development in individuals, we can now address the fundamentally important question of how best to support and promote this 21st century educational mission within and among institutions themselves. This also raises the question of the systemic recognition of educational settings that are conducive to the development of the 4Cs. In response to these questions, the nature and value of labelization is now presented.

A label is “a special mark created by a trusted third party and displayed on a product intended for sale, to certify its origin, to guarantee its quality and to ensure its conformity with the standards of practices in force” ( Renard 2005 ). A label is therefore a way of informing the public about the objective properties and qualities of a product, service, or system. The label is usually easily identifiable and can be seen as a proof that a product or service, a company, or an organization complies with defined criteria. Its effectiveness is therefore closely linked to the choice of requirements set out in its specifications, as well as to the independence and rigor of the body that verifies compliance with the criteria.

3.1. Labeling as a Means of Trust and Differentiation

As a sign of recognition established by a third party, the label or certification can constitute a proof of trust aiming to reassure the final consumer. According to Sutter ( 2005 ), there are different means of signaling trust. First, the brand name of a product or service and its reputation can, in itself, constitute a label when this brand name is recognized on the market. Second, various forms of self-declaration, such as internal company charters, though not statements assessed by a third party, show an internal commitment that can provide reassurance. Finally, there is certification or labeling, which is awarded by an external body and requires a third-party assessment by a qualified expert, according to criteria set out in a specific reference framework. It is this external body, a trusted third party, which guarantees the reliability of the label and constitutes a guarantee of credibility. Its objectivity and impartiality are meant to guarantee that the company, organization, product, or service meets defined quality or reliability criteria ( Jahn et al. 2005 ).

Research on populations around the world (e.g., Amron 2018 ; Sasmita and Suki 2015 ) show that the buying decisions of consumers are heavily influenced by the trust they have in a brand. More specifically, third-party assurances and labelization have been shown to strongly influence customer buying intentions and purchasing behavior (e.g., Kimery and McCord 2002 ; Lee et al. 2004 ). Taking France as an example, research shows that quality certification is seen as “important” or “significant” by 76% of companies ( Chameroy and Veran 2014 ), and decision makers feel more confident and are more willing to invest with the support of third-party approval than if their decision is merely based on the brand’s reputation or its demonstrated level of social responsibility ( Etilé and Teyssier 2016 ). Indeed, French companies with corporate social responsibility labels have been shown to have higher than average growth rates, and the adoption of quality standards is linked with a 7% increase in the share of export turnover ( Restout 2020 ).

3.2. Influence on Choice and Adoption of Goods and Services

Studies diverge in this area, but based on the seminal work of Parkinson ( 1975 ); Chameroy and Veran ( 2014 ), in their research on the effect of labels on willingness to pay, found that in 75% of cases, products with labels are chosen and preferred to those without labels, demonstrating the impact of the label on customer confidence—provided that it is issued by a recognized third party. Thus, brands that have good reputations tend to be preferred over cheaper new brands, because they are more accepted and valued by the individual social network ( Zielke and Dobbelstein 2007 ).

3.3. Process of Labelizing Products and Services

The creation of a label may be the result of a customer or market need, a request from a private sector of activity or from the government. Creating a label involves setting up a working group including stakeholders who are experts in the field, product managers, and a certification body in order to elaborate a reference framework. This is then reviewed by a specialized committee and validated by the stakeholders. The standard includes evaluation criteria that must be clearly defined ( Mourad 2017 ). An audit system is set up by a trusted third party. It must include the drafting of an audit report, a system for making decisions on labeling, and a system for identifying qualified assessors. The validity of the assessment process is reinforced by this double evaluation: a first level of audit carried out by a team of experts according to a clearly defined set of criteria and a second level of decision making assuring that the methodology and the result of the audit are in conformity with the defined reference framework.

3.4. Labelization of 21st Century Skills

The world of education is particularly concerned by the need to develop and assess 21st century skills, because it represents the first link in the chain of skills acquisition, preparing the human resources of tomorrow. One important means of simultaneously offering a reliable, independent assessment of 21st century skills and valorizing them by making them a core target within an educational system (schools, universities, and teaching and training programs of all kinds) is labelization. Two examples of labelization processes related to 21st century skills were recently developed by the International Institute for Competency Development ( 2021 ; see; accessed on 20 November 2022) working with international experts, teachers, and researchers from the University of Paris Cité (formerly Université Sorbonne Paris Cité), Oxford University, and AFNOR UK (an accredited certification body and part of AFNOR International, a subsidiary of the AFNOR group, the only standards body in France).

The last two or three decades has seen the simultaneous rise of international ranking systems and an interest in quality assurance and assessment in an increasingly competitive educational market ( Sursock 2021 ). The aim of these labelization frameworks is to assist in the development of “quality culture” in education by offering individual programs, institutions, and systems additional independent, reliable means of benchmarking, charting progress, and distinguishing themselves based on their capacity to support and promote the development of crucial skills. Importantly, the external perspectives provided by such assessment system should be capable of being individually adapted and applied in a manner that can resist becoming rigidly imposed external standards ( Sursock and Vettori 2017 ). Similarly, as we have seen in the literature review, the best approach to understanding and assessing a particular C is from a combination of different levels and perspectives in context. For example, important approaches to critical thinking have been made from educationally, philosophically, and psychologically focused vantage points ( Lai 2011 ). We can also argue that understandings of creativity are also results of different approaches: the major models in the literature (e.g., the “4Ps” and “7Cs” models; see Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ) explicitly result from and include the objectives of different education-focused, process-focused, and “ingredient” or component-focused approaches.

The two assessment frameworks outlined in the sections that follow were formulated with these different perspectives and objective needs in mind. Given the complexity and very different natures of their respective targets (i.e., one assessing entire formal educational contexts such as institutions or programs, whereas the other targets the less multi-dimensional, informal educational activities represented by games), the assessment of the individual Cs also represents what experts consider a target-appropriate balance of education- and curriculum-focused, process-focused, and component-focused criteria for assessing each different C.

4. The International Institute for Competency Development’s 21st Century Competencies 4Cs Assessment Framework for Institutions and Programs

One comprehensive attempt to operationalize programmatic-level and institutional-level support for the development of the 4Cs is the International Institute for Competency Development’s 4Cs Assessment Framework ( International Institute for Competency Development 2021 ). Based upon expert opinion and a review of the available literature, this evaluation grid is a practical tool that divides each of the 4Cs into three “user-friendly” but topic-covering components (see Table 1 and definitions and further discussion in the sections that follow). Each of these components is then assessed across seven dimensions (see Table 2 , below), designed to cover concisely the pedagogical process and the educational context. Examples for each point level are provided within the evaluation grid in order to offer additional clarity for educational stakeholders and expert assessors.

Three different components of each C in IICD’s 21st Century Skills 4Cs Assessment Framework.

Seven dimensions evaluated for the 3 different components of each C.

* Educational-level dependent and potentially less available for younger students or in some contexts.

The grid itself can be used in several important and different ways by different educational stakeholders: (1) by the institution itself in its self-evaluation and possible preparation for a certification or labelization process, (2) as an explicit list of criteria for external evaluation of the institution and its 4Cs-related programs, and (3) as a potential long-term development targeting tool for the institution or the institution in dialogue with the labelization process.

4.1. Evaluation Grid for Creativity

Dropping the component of “creative person” that is not relevant at the institutional level, this evaluation grid is based on Rhodes’ ( 1961 ) classic “4P” model of creativity, which remains the most concise model today ( Lubart and Thornhill-Miller 2019 ). The three “P” components retained are: creative process , creative environment , and creative product . Creative process refers to the acquisition of a set of tools and techniques that students can use to enhance the creativity of their thinking and work. Creative environment (also called “Press” in earlier literature) is about how the physical and social surroundings of students can help them be more creative. Finally, creative product refers to the evaluation of actual “productions” (e.g., a piece of art, text, speech, etc.) generated through the creative process.

4.2. Evaluation Grid for Critical Thinking

Our evaluation grid divides critical thinking into three main components: critical thinking about the world , critical thinking about oneself (self-reflection), as well as critical action and decision making . The first component refers to having an evidence-based view of the exterior world, notably by identifying and evaluating sources of information and using them to question current understandings and solve problems. Self-reflection refers to thinking critically about one’s own life situation, values, and actions; it presupposes the autonomy of thought and a certain distance as well as the most objective observation possible with regard to one’s own knowledge (“meta-cognition”). The third and final component, critical action and decision making, is about using critical thinking skills more practically in order to make appropriate life decisions as well as to be open to different points of view. This component also addresses soft skills and attitudes such as trusting information.

Our evaluation framework for critical thinking was in part inspired by Barnett’s “curriculum for critical being” (2015), whose model distinguishes two axes: one defined by the qualitative differences in the level of criticality attained and the second comprised of three different domains of application: formal knowledge, the self, and the world. The first two components of our framework (and the seven dimensions on which they are rated) reflect and encompass these three domains. Similar to Barrett’s proposal, our third rubric moves beyond the “skills-plus-dispositions” model of competency implicit in much theorizing about critical thinking and adds the importance of “action”—not just the ability to think critically and the disposition to do so, but the central importance of training and practicing “critical doing” ( Barnett 2015 ). Critical thinking should also be exercised collectively by involving students in collective thinking, facilitating the exchange of ideas and civic engagement ( Huber and Kuncel 2016 ).

4.3. Evaluation Grid for Collaboration

The first component of collaboration skills in the IICD grid is engagement and participation , referring to the active engagement in group work. Perspective taking and openness concerns the flexibility to work with and accommodate other group members and their points of view. The final dimension— social regulation —is about being able to reach for a common goal, notably through compromise and negotiation, as well as being aware of the different types of roles that group members can hold ( Hesse et al. 2015 ; Rusdin and Ali 2019 ; Care et al. 2016 ). (These last two components include elements of leadership, character, and emotional intelligence as sometimes described in other soft-skill and competency-related systems.) Participation, social regulation, and perspective taking have been identified as central social skills in collaborative problem solving ( Hesse et al. 2015 ). Regarding social regulation in this context, recognizing and profiting from group diversity is key ( Graesser et al. 2018 ). When describing an assessment in an educational setting of collaborative problem solving (with a task in which two or more students have to collaborate in order to solve it, each using a different set of resources), two main underpinning skills were described for the assessment: the social skill of audience awareness (“how to adapt one’s own behavior to suit the needs of the task and the partner’s requirements”, Care et al. 2016, p. 258 ) and the cognitive skill of planning and executing (developing a plan to reach for a goal) ( Care et al. 2016 ). The former is included in the perspective taking and openness rubric and the latter in the social regulation component in the IICD grid. Evans ( 2020 ) identified four main collaboration skills consistently mentioned in the scientific literature that are assessed in the IICD grid: the ability to plan and make group decisions (example item from the IICD grid: teachers provide assistance to students to overcome differences and reach a common goal during group work); the ability to communicate about thinking with the group (assessed notably in the meta-reflection strand of the IICD grid); the ability to contribute resources, ideas, and efforts and support group members (included notably in the engagement and participation as well as the social regulation components); and finally, the ability to monitor, reflect, and adapt individual and group processes to benefit the group (example item from the IICD grid: students use perspective-taking tools and techniques in group activities).

4.4. Evaluation Grid for Communication

The evaluation grid for communication is also composed of three dimensions: message formulation, message delivery, and message and communication feedback . Message formulation refers to the ability to design and structure a message to be sent, such as outlining the content of an argument. Message delivery is about effectively transmitting verbal and non-verbal aspects of a message. Finally, message and communication feedback refers to the ability of students and teachers to understand their audience, analyze their social surroundings, and interpret information in context. Other components of communication skills such as theory of mind, empathy, or emotional intelligence are also relevant and included in the process of applying the grid. Thompson ( 2020 ) proposes a four-component operationalized definition of communication for its assessment in students. First, they describe a comprehension strand covering the understanding and selection of adequate information from a range of sources. Message formulation in the IICD grid captures this dimension through its focus on content analysis and generation. Second, the presentation of information and ideas is mentioned in several different modes, adjusted to the intended audience, verbally as well as non-verbally. The message delivery component of the IICD grid focuses on these points. Third, the authors note the importance of communication technology and its advanced use. The IICD grid also covers the importance of technology use in its tools and techniques category, with, for example, an item that reads: students learn to effectively use a variety of formats of communication (social media, make a video, e-mail, letter writing, creating a document). Finally, Thompson ( 2020 ) describes the recognition of cultural and other differences as an important aspect of communication. The IICD grid aims at incorporating these aspects, notably in the meta-reflection category under each of the three dimensions.

5. Assessing the 4Cs in Informal Educational Contexts: The Example of Games

5.1. the 4cs in informal educational contexts.

So far, the focus has been on rather formal ways of nurturing the 4Cs. Although institutions and training programs are perhaps the most significant and necessary avenues of education, they are not the sole context in which 4Cs’ learning and improvement can manifest. One other important potential learning context is game play. Games are activities that are present and participated in throughout human society—by those of all ages, genders, and socio-economic statuses ( Bateson and Martin 2013 ; Huizinga 1949 ; Malaby 2007 ). This informal setting can also provide favorable conditions to help improve the 4Cs ( van Rosmalen et al. 2014 ) and should not be under-appreciated. Games provide a unique environment for learning, as they can foster a space to freely explore possibilities and one’s own potential ( de Freitas 2006 ). We argue that games are a significant potential pathway for the improvement of the 4Cs, and as such, they merit the same attention as more formal ways of learning and developing competencies.

5.2. 4Cs Evaluation Framework for Games

Compared to schools and educational institutions, the focus of IICD’s evaluation framework for games (see International Institute for Competency Development 2021 ) is more narrow. Thus, it is fundamentally different from the institutional grid: games, complex and deep as they can sometimes be, cannot directly be compared to the complexity of a school curriculum and all the programs it contains. The evaluation of a game’s effectiveness for training/improving a given C rests on the following principle: if a game presents affordances conducive to exercising a given skill, engaged playing of that game should help improve that skill.

The game’s evaluation grid is scored based on two criteria. For example, as a part of a game’s rating as a tool for the development of creativity, we determine the game must first meet two conditions. First, whether or not the game allows the opportunity for creativity to manifest itself: if creativity cannot occur in the game, it is obviously not eligible to receive ratings for that C. Second, whether or not creativity is needed in order to perform well in the game: if the players can win or achieve success in the game without needing creativity, this also means it cannot receive a rating for that C. If both conditions are met, however, the game will be considered potentially effective to improve creativity through the practice of certain components of creative behavior. This basic principle applies for all four of the Cs.

As outlined in Table 3 , below, the evaluation grid for each of the four Cs is composed of five components relevant to games that are different for each of the Cs. The grid works as follows: for each of the five components of each C, we evaluate the game on a list of sub-components using two yes/no scales: one for whether it is “possible” for that subcomponent to manifest and one for whether that sub-component is “required for success” in the game. This evaluation is done for all sub-components. After this, each general component is rated on the same two indicators. If 60% (i.e., three out of five) or more sub-components are positively rated as required, the general component is considered required. Then, the game is evaluated on its effectiveness for training and improving each of the 4Cs. If 60% or more components are positively rated as required, the game will be labelized as having the potential to be effective for training and improving the corresponding C.

Five different components evaluated for each C by the 4Cs assessment framework for games.

The evaluation grid for creativity is based on the multivariate model of creative potential (see Section 2.1.1 and Lubart et al. 2013 for more information) and is composed of four cognitive factors and one conative factor: originality , divergent thinking , convergent thinking , mental flexibility , and creative dispositions . Originality refers to the generation of ideas that are novel or unexpected, depending on the context. Divergent thinking corresponds to the generation of multiple ideas or solutions. Convergent thinking refers to the combination of multiple ideas and the selection of the most creative idea. Mental flexibility entails changing perspectives on a given problem and breaking away from initial ideas. Finally, creative dispositions concerns multiple personality-related factors conducive to creativity, such as openness to experience or risk taking.

The evaluation grid for critical thinking echoes Halpern’s ( 1998 ) as well as Marin and Halpern’s ( 2011 ) considerations for teaching this skill, that is, taking into consideration thinking skills, metacognition, and dispositions. The five components of the critical thinking grid are: goal-adequate discernment, objective thinking, metacognition, elaborate reasoning, and uncertainty management. Goal-adequate discernment entails the formulation of inferences and the discernment of contradictions when faced with a problem. Objective thinking corresponds to the suspension of one’s own judgment and the analysis of affirmations and sources in the most objective manner possible. Metacognition, here, is about questioning and reassessing information, as well as the awareness of one’s own cognitive biases. Elaborate reasoning entails reasoning in a way that is cautious, thorough, and serious. Finally, uncertainty management refers to the dispositional propensity to tolerate ambiguity and accept doubt.

The evaluation grid for collaboration is based on the quality of collaboration (QC) method ( Burkhardt et al. 2009 ; see Section 2.4.2 for more details) and is composed of the following five components: collaboration fluidity, well-argued deliberation and consensus-based decision, balance of contribution, organization and coordination, and cognitive syncing, input, and support. Collaboration fluidity entails the absence of speech overlap and the presence of a good flow in terms of turns to speak. Well-argued deliberation and consensus-based decision is about contributing to the discussion and task at hand, as well as participating in discussions and arguments, in order to obtain a consensus. Balance of contribution refers to having equal or equivalent contributions to organization, coordination, and decision making. Organization and coordination refers to effective management of roles, time, and “deadlines”, as well as the attribution of roles depending on participants’ skills. Finally, cognitive syncing, input, and support is about bringing ideas and resources to the group, as well as supporting and reinforcing other members of the group.

The five components used to evaluate communication in games include both linguistic, pragmatic, and social aspects. Linguistic skills per se are captured by the mastery of written and spoken language component. This component assesses language comprehension and the appropriate use of vocabulary. Pragmatic skills are captured by the verbal and non-verbal communication components and refer to the efficient use of verbal and body signals in the context of the game to achieve one’s communicative goals ( Grassmann 2014 ; Matthews 2014 ). Finally, the grid also evaluates social skills with its two last components, social interactions and social cognition, which, respectively, refer to the ability to interact with others appropriately—including by complying with the rules of the game—and to the understanding of other people’ mental states ( Tomasello 2005 ).

6. Discussion and Conclusions

Each of the 4Cs is a broad, multi-faceted concept that is the subject of a tremendous amount of research and discussion by a wide range of stakeholders in different disciplines, professions, and parts of the educational establishment. The development of evaluation frameworks to allow support for the 4Cs to be assessed and publicly recognized, using a label, is an important step for promoting and fostering these skills in educational contexts. As illustrated by IICD’s 4Cs Framework for educational institutions and programs, as well as its games/activities evaluation grid, the specific criteria to detect support for each C can vary depending upon the educational context (e.g., formal and institutional level or informal and at the activity level). Yet considering the 4Cs together highlights some additional observations, current challenges, and opportunities for the future that are worthy of discussion.

6.1. Interrelationships between the 4Cs and a New Model for Use in Pedagogy and Policy Promotion

One very important issue for understanding the 4Cs and their educational implementation that can be simultaneously a help and a hindrance for teaching them—and also a challenge when assessing them—is their multidimensionality and interrelatedness. In other words, the 4Cs are not entirely separate entities but instead, as Figure 2 shows, should be seen as four interlinked basic “elements” for future-oriented education that can help individuals in their learning process and, together, synergistically “bootstrap” the development of their cognitive potentials. Lamri and Lubart ( 2021 ), for example, found a certain base level of creativity was a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in managerial tasks, but that high-level performance required a combination of all four Cs. Some thinkers have argued that one cannot be creative without critical thinking, which also requires creativity, for example, to come up with alternative arguments (see Paul and Elder 2006 ). Similarly, among many other interrelationships, there is no collaboration without communication—and even ostensibly individual creativity is a “collaboration” of sorts with the general culture and precursors in a given field. As a result, it ranges from impossible to suboptimal to teach (or teach towards) one of the 4Cs without involving one or more of the others, and this commingling also underscores the genuine need and appropriateness of assessing them together.

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“‘Crea-Critical-Collab-ication’: a Dynamic Interactionist Model of the 4Cs”. (Illustration of the interplay and interpenetration of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication shown in dimensional space according to their differing cognitive/individual vs. social/interpersonal emphases; (© 2023, Branden Thornhill-Miller. All Rights Reserved.; accessed on 20 January 2023)).

From this perspective, Thornhill-Miller ( 2021 ) proposed a “dynamic interactionist model of the 4Cs” and their interrelated contributions to the future of education and work. Presented in Figure 2 , this model is meant to serve as a visual and conceptual aid for understanding the 4Cs and their interrelationships, thereby also promoting better use and understanding of them in pedagogical and policy settings. In addition to suggesting the portmanteau of “crea-critical thinking” as a new term to describe the overlap of much of the creative and critical thinking processes, the title of this model, “Crea-Critical-Collab-ication”, is a verbal representation of the fluid four-way interrelationship between the 4Cs visually represented in Figure 2 (a title meant to playfully repackage the 4Cs for important pedagogical and policy uses). This model goes further to suggest some dimensional differences in emphases that, roughly speaking, also often exist among the 4Cs: that is to say, the frequently greater emphasis on cognitive or individual elements at play in creativity and critical thinking in comparison to the social and interpersonal aspects more central to communication and collaboration ( Thornhill-Miller 2021 ).

Similarly focused on the need to promote a phase change towards future-oriented education, Lucas ( 2019 ) and colleagues have suggested conflating creative thinking and critical thinking in order to propose “3Cs” (creative thinking, communication, and collaboration) as new “foundational literacies” to symmetrically add to the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) of previous educational eras. Although we applaud these efforts, from our applied research perspective, we believe that the individual importance of, and distinct differences between, creative thinking and critical thinking support preserving them both as separate constructs in order to encourage the greatest development of each of them. Moreover, if only three categories were somehow required or preferable, one could argue that uniting communication and collaboration (as “collab-ication” suggests) might be preferable—particularly also given the fact that substantial aspects of communication are already covered within the 3Rs. In any case, we look forward to more such innovations and collaborations in this vibrant and important area of work at the crossroads between research, pedagogy, and policy development.

6.2. Limitations and Future Work

The rich literature in each of the 4Cs domains shows the positive effects of integrating these dimensions into educational and professional curricula. At the same time, the complexity of their definitions makes them difficult to assess, both in terms of reliability (assessment must not vary from one measurement to another) and of validity (tests must measure that which they are intended to measure). However, applied research in this area is becoming increasingly rigorous, with a growing capacity to provide the necessary tools for evidence-based practice. The development of these practices should involve interdisciplinary teams of teachers and other educational practitioners who are equipped and trained accordingly. Similarly, on the research side, further exploration and clarification of subcomponents of the 4Cs and other related skills will be important. Recent efforts to clarify the conceptual overlap and hierarchical relations of soft skills for the future of education and work, for example, have been helpful and promising (e.g., Joie-La Marle et al. 2022 ; Lamri et al. 2022 ). But the most definitive sort of taxonomy and measurement model that we are currently lacking might only be established based on the large-scale administration of a comprehensive battery of skill-measuring psychometric tests on appropriate cross sections of society.

The rapid development and integration of new technologies will also aid and change the contexts, resources, and implementation of the 4Cs. For example, the recent developments make it clear that the 4Cs will be enhanced and changed by interaction with artificially intelligence, even as 4Cs-related skills will probably, for the same reason, increasingly constitute the core of available human work in the future (see, e.g., Ross 2018 ). Similarly, research on virtual reality and creativity suggest that VR environments assist and expand individual and collaborative creativity ( Bourgeois-Bougrine et al. 2022 ). Because VR technologies offer the possibility of enhanced and materially enriched communication, collaboration, and information availability, they not only allow for the enhancement of creativity techniques but also for similar expansions and improvements on almost all forms of human activity (see Thornhill-Miller and Dupont 2016 )—including the other three Cs.

6.3. Conclusion: Labelization of the 4Cs and the Future of Education and Work

Traditional educational approaches cannot meet the educational needs of our emergent societies if they do not teach, promote, and assess in line with the new learner characteristics and contexts of the 21st century ( Sahin 2009 ). The sort of future-oriented change and development required by this shift in institutional practices, programming, and structure will likely meet with significant resistance from comfortably entrenched (and often outdated) segments of traditional educational and training establishments. Additional external evaluation and monitoring is rarely welcome by workers in any context. We believe, however, that top-down processes from the innovative and competition-conscious administrative levels will be met by bottom-up demands from students and education consumers to support these institutional changes. And we contend that efforts such as labelizing 4C processes will serve to push educators and institutions towards more relevant offerings, oriented towards the future of work and helping build a more successful future for all.

In the end, the 4Cs framework seems to be a manageable, focused model for modernizing education, and one worthy of its growing prevalence in the educational and research marketplace for a number of reasons. These reasons include the complexity and cumbersome nature of larger alternative systems and the 4Cs’ persuasive presence at the core of a number of early and industry-driven frameworks. In addition, the 4Cs have benefitted from their subsequent promotion by organizations such as the OECD and the World Economic Forum, as well as some more direct support from recent empirical research. The promotion, teaching, and assessment of the 4Cs will require a complex social intervention and mobilization of educational resources—a major shift in pedagogy and institutional structures. Yet the same evolving digital technologies that have largely caused the need for these massive, rapid changes can also assist in the implementation of solutions ( van Laar et al. 2017 ). To the extent that future research also converges on such a model (that has already been found pedagogically useful and policy-friendly by so many individuals and organizations), the 4Cs framework has the potential to become a manageable core for 21st century skills and the future of education and work—one that stakeholders with various agendas can already begin building on for a better educational and economic future together.

Funding Statement

This research received no external funding.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, B.T.-M. and T.L.; writing—original draft preparation, B.T.-M., A.C., M.M., J.-M.B., T.M., S.B.-B., S.E.H., F.V., M.A.-L., C.F., D.S., F.M.; writing—review and editing, B.T.-M., A.C., T.L., J.-M.B., C.F.; visualization, B.T.-M.; supervision, B.T.-M., T.L.; project administration, B.T.-M., T.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

B.T.-M. and T.L. are unpaid academic co-founder and project collaborator for the International Institute for Competency Development, whose labelization frameworks (developed in cooperation with Afnor International and the LaPEA lab of Université Paris Cité and Université Gustave Eiffel) are used as examples in this review. S.E.H. and M.A.-L. are employees of AFNOR International. No funding was received to support this research or article, which reflects the views of the scientists and researchers and not their organizations or companies.

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  • Published: 11 January 2023

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature

  • Enwei Xu   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Wei Wang 1 &
  • Qingxia Wang 1  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  10 , Article number:  16 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Collaborative problem-solving has been widely embraced in the classroom instruction of critical thinking, which is regarded as the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education as well as a key competence for learners in the 21st century. However, the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking remains uncertain. This current research presents the major findings of a meta-analysis of 36 pieces of the literature revealed in worldwide educational periodicals during the 21st century to identify the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and to determine, based on evidence, whether and to what extent collaborative problem solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. The findings show that (1) collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster students’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]); (2) in respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem solving can significantly and successfully enhance students’ attitudinal tendencies (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI[0.58, 0.82]); and (3) the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have an impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. On the basis of these results, recommendations are made for further study and instruction to better support students’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.


Although critical thinking has a long history in research, the concept of critical thinking, which is regarded as an essential competence for learners in the 21st century, has recently attracted more attention from researchers and teaching practitioners (National Research Council, 2012 ). Critical thinking should be the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field of education (Peng and Deng, 2017 ) because students with critical thinking can not only understand the meaning of knowledge but also effectively solve practical problems in real life even after knowledge is forgotten (Kek and Huijser, 2011 ). The definition of critical thinking is not universal (Ennis, 1989 ; Castle, 2009 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). In general, the definition of critical thinking is a self-aware and self-regulated thought process (Facione, 1990 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). It refers to the cognitive skills needed to interpret, analyze, synthesize, reason, and evaluate information as well as the attitudinal tendency to apply these abilities (Halpern, 2001 ). The view that critical thinking can be taught and learned through curriculum teaching has been widely supported by many researchers (e.g., Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), leading to educators’ efforts to foster it among students. In the field of teaching practice, there are three types of courses for teaching critical thinking (Ennis, 1989 ). The first is an independent curriculum in which critical thinking is taught and cultivated without involving the knowledge of specific disciplines; the second is an integrated curriculum in which critical thinking is integrated into the teaching of other disciplines as a clear teaching goal; and the third is a mixed curriculum in which critical thinking is taught in parallel to the teaching of other disciplines for mixed teaching training. Furthermore, numerous measuring tools have been developed by researchers and educators to measure critical thinking in the context of teaching practice. These include standardized measurement tools, such as WGCTA, CCTST, CCTT, and CCTDI, which have been verified by repeated experiments and are considered effective and reliable by international scholars (Facione and Facione, 1992 ). In short, descriptions of critical thinking, including its two dimensions of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, different types of teaching courses, and standardized measurement tools provide a complex normative framework for understanding, teaching, and evaluating critical thinking.

Cultivating critical thinking in curriculum teaching can start with a problem, and one of the most popular critical thinking instructional approaches is problem-based learning (Liu et al., 2020 ). Duch et al. ( 2001 ) noted that problem-based learning in group collaboration is progressive active learning, which can improve students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Collaborative problem-solving is the organic integration of collaborative learning and problem-based learning, which takes learners as the center of the learning process and uses problems with poor structure in real-world situations as the starting point for the learning process (Liang et al., 2017 ). Students learn the knowledge needed to solve problems in a collaborative group, reach a consensus on problems in the field, and form solutions through social cooperation methods, such as dialogue, interpretation, questioning, debate, negotiation, and reflection, thus promoting the development of learners’ domain knowledge and critical thinking (Cindy, 2004 ; Liang et al., 2017 ).

Collaborative problem-solving has been widely used in the teaching practice of critical thinking, and several studies have attempted to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical literature on critical thinking from various perspectives. However, little attention has been paid to the impact of collaborative problem-solving on critical thinking. Therefore, the best approach for developing and enhancing critical thinking throughout collaborative problem-solving is to examine how to implement critical thinking instruction; however, this issue is still unexplored, which means that many teachers are incapable of better instructing critical thinking (Leng and Lu, 2020 ; Niu et al., 2013 ). For example, Huber ( 2016 ) provided the meta-analysis findings of 71 publications on gaining critical thinking over various time frames in college with the aim of determining whether critical thinking was truly teachable. These authors found that learners significantly improve their critical thinking while in college and that critical thinking differs with factors such as teaching strategies, intervention duration, subject area, and teaching type. The usefulness of collaborative problem-solving in fostering students’ critical thinking, however, was not determined by this study, nor did it reveal whether there existed significant variations among the different elements. A meta-analysis of 31 pieces of educational literature was conducted by Liu et al. ( 2020 ) to assess the impact of problem-solving on college students’ critical thinking. These authors found that problem-solving could promote the development of critical thinking among college students and proposed establishing a reasonable group structure for problem-solving in a follow-up study to improve students’ critical thinking. Additionally, previous empirical studies have reached inconclusive and even contradictory conclusions about whether and to what extent collaborative problem-solving increases or decreases critical thinking levels. As an illustration, Yang et al. ( 2008 ) carried out an experiment on the integrated curriculum teaching of college students based on a web bulletin board with the goal of fostering participants’ critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These authors’ research revealed that through sharing, debating, examining, and reflecting on various experiences and ideas, collaborative problem-solving can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking in real-life problem situations. In contrast, collaborative problem-solving had a positive impact on learners’ interaction and could improve learning interest and motivation but could not significantly improve students’ critical thinking when compared to traditional classroom teaching, according to research by Naber and Wyatt ( 2014 ) and Sendag and Odabasi ( 2009 ) on undergraduate and high school students, respectively.

The above studies show that there is inconsistency regarding the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking. Therefore, it is essential to conduct a thorough and trustworthy review to detect and decide whether and to what degree collaborative problem-solving can result in a rise or decrease in critical thinking. Meta-analysis is a quantitative analysis approach that is utilized to examine quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. This approach characterizes the effectiveness of its impact by averaging the effect sizes of numerous qualitative studies in an effort to reduce the uncertainty brought on by independent research and produce more conclusive findings (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ).

This paper used a meta-analytic approach and carried out a meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking in order to make a contribution to both research and practice. The following research questions were addressed by this meta-analysis:

What is the overall effect size of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills)?

How are the disparities between the study conclusions impacted by various moderating variables if the impacts of various experimental designs in the included studies are heterogeneous?

This research followed the strict procedures (e.g., database searching, identification, screening, eligibility, merging, duplicate removal, and analysis of included studies) of Cooper’s ( 2010 ) proposed meta-analysis approach for examining quantitative data from various separate studies that are all focused on the same research topic. The relevant empirical research that appeared in worldwide educational periodicals within the 21st century was subjected to this meta-analysis using Rev-Man 5.4. The consistency of the data extracted separately by two researchers was tested using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, and a publication bias test and a heterogeneity test were run on the sample data to ascertain the quality of this meta-analysis.

Data sources and search strategies

There were three stages to the data collection process for this meta-analysis, as shown in Fig. 1 , which shows the number of articles included and eliminated during the selection process based on the statement and study eligibility criteria.

figure 1

This flowchart shows the number of records identified, included and excluded in the article.

First, the databases used to systematically search for relevant articles were the journal papers of the Web of Science Core Collection and the Chinese Core source journal, as well as the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI) source journal papers included in CNKI. These databases were selected because they are credible platforms that are sources of scholarly and peer-reviewed information with advanced search tools and contain literature relevant to the subject of our topic from reliable researchers and experts. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the Web of Science was “TS = (((“critical thinking” or “ct” and “pretest” or “posttest”) or (“critical thinking” or “ct” and “control group” or “quasi experiment” or “experiment”)) and (“collaboration” or “collaborative learning” or “CSCL”) and (“problem solving” or “problem-based learning” or “PBL”))”. The research area was “Education Educational Research”, and the search period was “January 1, 2000, to December 30, 2021”. A total of 412 papers were obtained. The search string with the Boolean operator used in the CNKI was “SU = (‘critical thinking’*‘collaboration’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘collaborative learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘CSCL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem solving’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem-based learning’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘PBL’ + ‘critical thinking’*‘problem oriented’) AND FT = (‘experiment’ + ‘quasi experiment’ + ‘pretest’ + ‘posttest’ + ‘empirical study’)” (translated into Chinese when searching). A total of 56 studies were found throughout the search period of “January 2000 to December 2021”. From the databases, all duplicates and retractions were eliminated before exporting the references into Endnote, a program for managing bibliographic references. In all, 466 studies were found.

Second, the studies that matched the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the meta-analysis were chosen by two researchers after they had reviewed the abstracts and titles of the gathered articles, yielding a total of 126 studies.

Third, two researchers thoroughly reviewed each included article’s whole text in accordance with the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Meanwhile, a snowball search was performed using the references and citations of the included articles to ensure complete coverage of the articles. Ultimately, 36 articles were kept.

Two researchers worked together to carry out this entire process, and a consensus rate of almost 94.7% was reached after discussion and negotiation to clarify any emerging differences.

Eligibility criteria

Since not all the retrieved studies matched the criteria for this meta-analysis, eligibility criteria for both inclusion and exclusion were developed as follows:

The publication language of the included studies was limited to English and Chinese, and the full text could be obtained. Articles that did not meet the publication language and articles not published between 2000 and 2021 were excluded.

The research design of the included studies must be empirical and quantitative studies that can assess the effect of collaborative problem-solving on the development of critical thinking. Articles that could not identify the causal mechanisms by which collaborative problem-solving affects critical thinking, such as review articles and theoretical articles, were excluded.

The research method of the included studies must feature a randomized control experiment or a quasi-experiment, or a natural experiment, which have a higher degree of internal validity with strong experimental designs and can all plausibly provide evidence that critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving are causally related. Articles with non-experimental research methods, such as purely correlational or observational studies, were excluded.

The participants of the included studies were only students in school, including K-12 students and college students. Articles in which the participants were non-school students, such as social workers or adult learners, were excluded.

The research results of the included studies must mention definite signs that may be utilized to gauge critical thinking’s impact (e.g., sample size, mean value, or standard deviation). Articles that lacked specific measurement indicators for critical thinking and could not calculate the effect size were excluded.

Data coding design

In order to perform a meta-analysis, it is necessary to collect the most important information from the articles, codify that information’s properties, and convert descriptive data into quantitative data. Therefore, this study designed a data coding template (see Table 1 ). Ultimately, 16 coding fields were retained.

The designed data-coding template consisted of three pieces of information. Basic information about the papers was included in the descriptive information: the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper.

The variable information for the experimental design had three variables: the independent variable (instruction method), the dependent variable (critical thinking), and the moderating variable (learning stage, teaching type, intervention duration, learning scaffold, group size, measuring tool, and subject area). Depending on the topic of this study, the intervention strategy, as the independent variable, was coded into collaborative and non-collaborative problem-solving. The dependent variable, critical thinking, was coded as a cognitive skill and an attitudinal tendency. And seven moderating variables were created by grouping and combining the experimental design variables discovered within the 36 studies (see Table 1 ), where learning stages were encoded as higher education, high school, middle school, and primary school or lower; teaching types were encoded as mixed courses, integrated courses, and independent courses; intervention durations were encoded as 0–1 weeks, 1–4 weeks, 4–12 weeks, and more than 12 weeks; group sizes were encoded as 2–3 persons, 4–6 persons, 7–10 persons, and more than 10 persons; learning scaffolds were encoded as teacher-supported learning scaffold, technique-supported learning scaffold, and resource-supported learning scaffold; measuring tools were encoded as standardized measurement tools (e.g., WGCTA, CCTT, CCTST, and CCTDI) and self-adapting measurement tools (e.g., modified or made by researchers); and subject areas were encoded according to the specific subjects used in the 36 included studies.

The data information contained three metrics for measuring critical thinking: sample size, average value, and standard deviation. It is vital to remember that studies with various experimental designs frequently adopt various formulas to determine the effect size. And this paper used Morris’ proposed standardized mean difference (SMD) calculation formula ( 2008 , p. 369; see Supplementary Table S3 ).

Procedure for extracting and coding data

According to the data coding template (see Table 1 ), the 36 papers’ information was retrieved by two researchers, who then entered them into Excel (see Supplementary Table S1 ). The results of each study were extracted separately in the data extraction procedure if an article contained numerous studies on critical thinking, or if a study assessed different critical thinking dimensions. For instance, Tiwari et al. ( 2010 ) used four time points, which were viewed as numerous different studies, to examine the outcomes of critical thinking, and Chen ( 2013 ) included the two outcome variables of attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills, which were regarded as two studies. After discussion and negotiation during data extraction, the two researchers’ consistency test coefficients were roughly 93.27%. Supplementary Table S2 details the key characteristics of the 36 included articles with 79 effect quantities, including descriptive information (e.g., the publishing year, author, serial number, and title of the paper), variable information (e.g., independent variables, dependent variables, and moderating variables), and data information (e.g., mean values, standard deviations, and sample size). Following that, testing for publication bias and heterogeneity was done on the sample data using the Rev-Man 5.4 software, and then the test results were used to conduct a meta-analysis.

Publication bias test

When the sample of studies included in a meta-analysis does not accurately reflect the general status of research on the relevant subject, publication bias is said to be exhibited in this research. The reliability and accuracy of the meta-analysis may be impacted by publication bias. Due to this, the meta-analysis needs to check the sample data for publication bias (Stewart et al., 2006 ). A popular method to check for publication bias is the funnel plot; and it is unlikely that there will be publishing bias when the data are equally dispersed on either side of the average effect size and targeted within the higher region. The data are equally dispersed within the higher portion of the efficient zone, consistent with the funnel plot connected with this analysis (see Fig. 2 ), indicating that publication bias is unlikely in this situation.

figure 2

This funnel plot shows the result of publication bias of 79 effect quantities across 36 studies.

Heterogeneity test

To select the appropriate effect models for the meta-analysis, one might use the results of a heterogeneity test on the data effect sizes. In a meta-analysis, it is common practice to gauge the degree of data heterogeneity using the I 2 value, and I 2  ≥ 50% is typically understood to denote medium-high heterogeneity, which calls for the adoption of a random effect model; if not, a fixed effect model ought to be applied (Lipsey and Wilson, 2001 ). The findings of the heterogeneity test in this paper (see Table 2 ) revealed that I 2 was 86% and displayed significant heterogeneity ( P  < 0.01). To ensure accuracy and reliability, the overall effect size ought to be calculated utilizing the random effect model.

The analysis of the overall effect size

This meta-analysis utilized a random effect model to examine 79 effect quantities from 36 studies after eliminating heterogeneity. In accordance with Cohen’s criterion (Cohen, 1992 ), it is abundantly clear from the analysis results, which are shown in the forest plot of the overall effect (see Fig. 3 ), that the cumulative impact size of cooperative problem-solving is 0.82, which is statistically significant ( z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]), and can encourage learners to practice critical thinking.

figure 3

This forest plot shows the analysis result of the overall effect size across 36 studies.

In addition, this study examined two distinct dimensions of critical thinking to better understand the precise contributions that collaborative problem-solving makes to the growth of critical thinking. The findings (see Table 3 ) indicate that collaborative problem-solving improves cognitive skills (ES = 0.70) and attitudinal tendency (ES = 1.17), with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.95, P  < 0.01). Although collaborative problem-solving improves both dimensions of critical thinking, it is essential to point out that the improvements in students’ attitudinal tendency are much more pronounced and have a significant comprehensive effect (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]), whereas gains in learners’ cognitive skill are slightly improved and are just above average. (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

The analysis of moderator effect size

The whole forest plot’s 79 effect quantities underwent a two-tailed test, which revealed significant heterogeneity ( I 2  = 86%, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01), indicating differences between various effect sizes that may have been influenced by moderating factors other than sampling error. Therefore, exploring possible moderating factors that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis, such as the learning stage, learning scaffold, teaching type, group size, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, in order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking. The findings (see Table 4 ) indicate that various moderating factors have advantageous effects on critical thinking. In this situation, the subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01), and teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05) are all significant moderators that can be applied to support the cultivation of critical thinking. However, since the learning stage and the measuring tools did not significantly differ among intergroup (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05, and chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05), we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving. These are the precise outcomes, as follows:

Various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively, without significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05). High school was first on the list of effect sizes (ES = 1.36, P  < 0.01), then higher education (ES = 0.78, P  < 0.01), and middle school (ES = 0.73, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the learning stage’s beneficial influence on cultivating learners’ critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is essential for cultivating critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Different teaching types had varying degrees of positive impact on critical thinking, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05). The effect size was ranked as follows: mixed courses (ES = 1.34, P  < 0.01), integrated courses (ES = 0.81, P  < 0.01), and independent courses (ES = 0.27, P  < 0.01). These results indicate that the most effective approach to cultivate critical thinking utilizing collaborative problem solving is through the teaching type of mixed courses.

Various intervention durations significantly improved critical thinking, and there were significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01). The effect sizes related to this variable showed a tendency to increase with longer intervention durations. The improvement in critical thinking reached a significant level (ES = 0.85, P  < 0.01) after more than 12 weeks of training. These findings indicate that the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated, with a longer intervention duration having a greater effect.

Different learning scaffolds influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01). The resource-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.69, P  < 0.01) acquired a medium-to-higher level of impact, the technique-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.63, P  < 0.01) also attained a medium-to-higher level of impact, and the teacher-supported learning scaffold (ES = 0.92, P  < 0.01) displayed a high level of significant impact. These results show that the learning scaffold with teacher support has the greatest impact on cultivating critical thinking.

Various group sizes influenced critical thinking positively, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05). Critical thinking showed a general declining trend with increasing group size. The overall effect size of 2–3 people in this situation was the biggest (ES = 0.99, P  < 0.01), and when the group size was greater than 7 people, the improvement in critical thinking was at the lower-middle level (ES < 0.5, P  < 0.01). These results show that the impact on critical thinking is positively connected with group size, and as group size grows, so does the overall impact.

Various measuring tools influenced critical thinking positively, with significant intergroup differences (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05). In this situation, the self-adapting measurement tools obtained an upper-medium level of effect (ES = 0.78), whereas the complete effect size of the standardized measurement tools was the largest, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 0.84, P  < 0.01). These results show that, despite the beneficial influence of the measuring tool on cultivating critical thinking, we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Different subject areas had a greater impact on critical thinking, and the intergroup differences were statistically significant (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05). Mathematics had the greatest overall impact, achieving a significant level of effect (ES = 1.68, P  < 0.01), followed by science (ES = 1.25, P  < 0.01) and medical science (ES = 0.87, P  < 0.01), both of which also achieved a significant level of effect. Programming technology was the least effective (ES = 0.39, P  < 0.01), only having a medium-low degree of effect compared to education (ES = 0.72, P  < 0.01) and other fields (such as language, art, and social sciences) (ES = 0.58, P  < 0.01). These results suggest that scientific fields (e.g., mathematics, science) may be the most effective subject areas for cultivating critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

According to this meta-analysis, using collaborative problem-solving as an intervention strategy in critical thinking teaching has a considerable amount of impact on cultivating learners’ critical thinking as a whole and has a favorable promotional effect on the two dimensions of critical thinking. According to certain studies, collaborative problem solving, the most frequently used critical thinking teaching strategy in curriculum instruction can considerably enhance students’ critical thinking (e.g., Liang et al., 2017 ; Liu et al., 2020 ; Cindy, 2004 ). This meta-analysis provides convergent data support for the above research views. Thus, the findings of this meta-analysis not only effectively address the first research query regarding the overall effect of cultivating critical thinking and its impact on the two dimensions of critical thinking (i.e., attitudinal tendency and cognitive skills) utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving, but also enhance our confidence in cultivating critical thinking by using collaborative problem-solving intervention approach in the context of classroom teaching.

Furthermore, the associated improvements in attitudinal tendency are much stronger, but the corresponding improvements in cognitive skill are only marginally better. According to certain studies, cognitive skill differs from the attitudinal tendency in classroom instruction; the cultivation and development of the former as a key ability is a process of gradual accumulation, while the latter as an attitude is affected by the context of the teaching situation (e.g., a novel and exciting teaching approach, challenging and rewarding tasks) (Halpern, 2001 ; Wei and Hong, 2022 ). Collaborative problem-solving as a teaching approach is exciting and interesting, as well as rewarding and challenging; because it takes the learners as the focus and examines problems with poor structure in real situations, and it can inspire students to fully realize their potential for problem-solving, which will significantly improve their attitudinal tendency toward solving problems (Liu et al., 2020 ). Similar to how collaborative problem-solving influences attitudinal tendency, attitudinal tendency impacts cognitive skill when attempting to solve a problem (Liu et al., 2020 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ), and stronger attitudinal tendencies are associated with improved learning achievement and cognitive ability in students (Sison, 2008 ; Zhang et al., 2022 ). It can be seen that the two specific dimensions of critical thinking as well as critical thinking as a whole are affected by collaborative problem-solving, and this study illuminates the nuanced links between cognitive skills and attitudinal tendencies with regard to these two dimensions of critical thinking. To fully develop students’ capacity for critical thinking, future empirical research should pay closer attention to cognitive skills.

The moderating effects of collaborative problem solving with regard to teaching critical thinking

In order to further explore the key factors that influence critical thinking, exploring possible moderating effects that might produce considerable heterogeneity was done using subgroup analysis. The findings show that the moderating factors, such as the teaching type, learning stage, group size, learning scaffold, duration of the intervention, measuring tool, and the subject area included in the 36 experimental designs, could all support the cultivation of collaborative problem-solving in critical thinking. Among them, the effect size differences between the learning stage and measuring tool are not significant, which does not explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

In terms of the learning stage, various learning stages influenced critical thinking positively without significant intergroup differences, indicating that we are unable to explain why it is crucial in fostering the growth of critical thinking.

Although high education accounts for 70.89% of all empirical studies performed by researchers, high school may be the appropriate learning stage to foster students’ critical thinking by utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving since it has the largest overall effect size. This phenomenon may be related to student’s cognitive development, which needs to be further studied in follow-up research.

With regard to teaching type, mixed course teaching may be the best teaching method to cultivate students’ critical thinking. Relevant studies have shown that in the actual teaching process if students are trained in thinking methods alone, the methods they learn are isolated and divorced from subject knowledge, which is not conducive to their transfer of thinking methods; therefore, if students’ thinking is trained only in subject teaching without systematic method training, it is challenging to apply to real-world circumstances (Ruggiero, 2012 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Teaching critical thinking as mixed course teaching in parallel to other subject teachings can achieve the best effect on learners’ critical thinking, and explicit critical thinking instruction is more effective than less explicit critical thinking instruction (Bensley and Spero, 2014 ).

In terms of the intervention duration, with longer intervention times, the overall effect size shows an upward tendency. Thus, the intervention duration and critical thinking’s impact are positively correlated. Critical thinking, as a key competency for students in the 21st century, is difficult to get a meaningful improvement in a brief intervention duration. Instead, it could be developed over a lengthy period of time through consistent teaching and the progressive accumulation of knowledge (Halpern, 2001 ; Hu and Liu, 2015 ). Therefore, future empirical studies ought to take these restrictions into account throughout a longer period of critical thinking instruction.

With regard to group size, a group size of 2–3 persons has the highest effect size, and the comprehensive effect size decreases with increasing group size in general. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a group composed of two to four members is most appropriate for collaborative learning (Schellens and Valcke, 2006 ). However, the meta-analysis results also indicate that once the group size exceeds 7 people, small groups cannot produce better interaction and performance than large groups. This may be because the learning scaffolds of technique support, resource support, and teacher support improve the frequency and effectiveness of interaction among group members, and a collaborative group with more members may increase the diversity of views, which is helpful to cultivate critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

With regard to the learning scaffold, the three different kinds of learning scaffolds can all enhance critical thinking. Among them, the teacher-supported learning scaffold has the largest overall effect size, demonstrating the interdependence of effective learning scaffolds and collaborative problem-solving. This outcome is in line with some research findings; as an example, a successful strategy is to encourage learners to collaborate, come up with solutions, and develop critical thinking skills by using learning scaffolds (Reiser, 2004 ; Xu et al., 2022 ); learning scaffolds can lower task complexity and unpleasant feelings while also enticing students to engage in learning activities (Wood et al., 2006 ); learning scaffolds are designed to assist students in using learning approaches more successfully to adapt the collaborative problem-solving process, and the teacher-supported learning scaffolds have the greatest influence on critical thinking in this process because they are more targeted, informative, and timely (Xu et al., 2022 ).

With respect to the measuring tool, despite the fact that standardized measurement tools (such as the WGCTA, CCTT, and CCTST) have been acknowledged as trustworthy and effective by worldwide experts, only 54.43% of the research included in this meta-analysis adopted them for assessment, and the results indicated no intergroup differences. These results suggest that not all teaching circumstances are appropriate for measuring critical thinking using standardized measurement tools. “The measuring tools for measuring thinking ability have limits in assessing learners in educational situations and should be adapted appropriately to accurately assess the changes in learners’ critical thinking.”, according to Simpson and Courtney ( 2002 , p. 91). As a result, in order to more fully and precisely gauge how learners’ critical thinking has evolved, we must properly modify standardized measuring tools based on collaborative problem-solving learning contexts.

With regard to the subject area, the comprehensive effect size of science departments (e.g., mathematics, science, medical science) is larger than that of language arts and social sciences. Some recent international education reforms have noted that critical thinking is a basic part of scientific literacy. Students with scientific literacy can prove the rationality of their judgment according to accurate evidence and reasonable standards when they face challenges or poorly structured problems (Kyndt et al., 2013 ), which makes critical thinking crucial for developing scientific understanding and applying this understanding to practical problem solving for problems related to science, technology, and society (Yore et al., 2007 ).

Suggestions for critical thinking teaching

Other than those stated in the discussion above, the following suggestions are offered for critical thinking instruction utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

First, teachers should put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, to design real problems based on collaborative situations. This meta-analysis provides evidence to support the view that collaborative problem-solving has a strong synergistic effect on promoting students’ critical thinking. Asking questions about real situations and allowing learners to take part in critical discussions on real problems during class instruction are key ways to teach critical thinking rather than simply reading speculative articles without practice (Mulnix, 2012 ). Furthermore, the improvement of students’ critical thinking is realized through cognitive conflict with other learners in the problem situation (Yang et al., 2008 ). Consequently, it is essential for teachers to put a special emphasis on the two core elements, which are collaboration and problem-solving, and design real problems and encourage students to discuss, negotiate, and argue based on collaborative problem-solving situations.

Second, teachers should design and implement mixed courses to cultivate learners’ critical thinking, utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving. Critical thinking can be taught through curriculum instruction (Kuncel, 2011 ; Leng and Lu, 2020 ), with the goal of cultivating learners’ critical thinking for flexible transfer and application in real problem-solving situations. This meta-analysis shows that mixed course teaching has a highly substantial impact on the cultivation and promotion of learners’ critical thinking. Therefore, teachers should design and implement mixed course teaching with real collaborative problem-solving situations in combination with the knowledge content of specific disciplines in conventional teaching, teach methods and strategies of critical thinking based on poorly structured problems to help students master critical thinking, and provide practical activities in which students can interact with each other to develop knowledge construction and critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem-solving.

Third, teachers should be more trained in critical thinking, particularly preservice teachers, and they also should be conscious of the ways in which teachers’ support for learning scaffolds can promote critical thinking. The learning scaffold supported by teachers had the greatest impact on learners’ critical thinking, in addition to being more directive, targeted, and timely (Wood et al., 2006 ). Critical thinking can only be effectively taught when teachers recognize the significance of critical thinking for students’ growth and use the proper approaches while designing instructional activities (Forawi, 2016 ). Therefore, with the intention of enabling teachers to create learning scaffolds to cultivate learners’ critical thinking utilizing the approach of collaborative problem solving, it is essential to concentrate on the teacher-supported learning scaffolds and enhance the instruction for teaching critical thinking to teachers, especially preservice teachers.

Implications and limitations

There are certain limitations in this meta-analysis, but future research can correct them. First, the search languages were restricted to English and Chinese, so it is possible that pertinent studies that were written in other languages were overlooked, resulting in an inadequate number of articles for review. Second, these data provided by the included studies are partially missing, such as whether teachers were trained in the theory and practice of critical thinking, the average age and gender of learners, and the differences in critical thinking among learners of various ages and genders. Third, as is typical for review articles, more studies were released while this meta-analysis was being done; therefore, it had a time limit. With the development of relevant research, future studies focusing on these issues are highly relevant and needed.


The subject of the magnitude of collaborative problem-solving’s impact on fostering students’ critical thinking, which received scant attention from other studies, was successfully addressed by this study. The question of the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving in promoting students’ critical thinking was addressed in this study, which addressed a topic that had gotten little attention in earlier research. The following conclusions can be made:

Regarding the results obtained, collaborative problem solving is an effective teaching approach to foster learners’ critical thinking, with a significant overall effect size (ES = 0.82, z  = 12.78, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.69, 0.95]). With respect to the dimensions of critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving can significantly and effectively improve students’ attitudinal tendency, and the comprehensive effect is significant (ES = 1.17, z  = 7.62, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.87, 1.47]); nevertheless, it falls short in terms of improving students’ cognitive skills, having only an upper-middle impact (ES = 0.70, z  = 11.55, P  < 0.01, 95% CI [0.58, 0.82]).

As demonstrated by both the results and the discussion, there are varying degrees of beneficial effects on students’ critical thinking from all seven moderating factors, which were found across 36 studies. In this context, the teaching type (chi 2  = 7.20, P  < 0.05), intervention duration (chi 2  = 12.18, P  < 0.01), subject area (chi 2  = 13.36, P  < 0.05), group size (chi 2  = 8.77, P  < 0.05), and learning scaffold (chi 2  = 9.03, P  < 0.01) all have a positive impact on critical thinking, and they can be viewed as important moderating factors that affect how critical thinking develops. Since the learning stage (chi 2  = 3.15, P  = 0.21 > 0.05) and measuring tools (chi 2  = 0.08, P  = 0.78 > 0.05) did not demonstrate any significant intergroup differences, we are unable to explain why these two factors are crucial in supporting the cultivation of critical thinking in the context of collaborative problem-solving.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included within the article and its supplementary information files, and the supplementary information files are available in the Dataverse repository: .

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This research was supported by the graduate scientific research and innovation project of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region named “Research on in-depth learning of high school information technology courses for the cultivation of computing thinking” (No. XJ2022G190) and the independent innovation fund project for doctoral students of the College of Educational Science of Xinjiang Normal University named “Research on project-based teaching of high school information technology courses from the perspective of discipline core literacy” (No. XJNUJKYA2003).

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Xu, E., Wang, W. & Wang, Q. The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting students’ critical thinking: A meta-analysis based on empirical literature. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 10 , 16 (2023).

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Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It’s Important

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Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It’s Important was originally published on Ivy Exec .

Strong critical thinking skills are crucial for career success, regardless of educational background. It embodies the ability to engage in astute and effective decision-making, lending invaluable dimensions to professional growth.

At its essence, critical thinking is the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information in a logical and reasoned manner. It’s not merely about accumulating knowledge but harnessing it effectively to make informed decisions and solve complex problems. In the dynamic landscape of modern careers, honing this skill is paramount.

The Impact of Critical Thinking on Your Career

☑ problem-solving mastery.

Visualize critical thinking as the Sherlock Holmes of your career journey. It facilitates swift problem resolution akin to a detective unraveling a mystery. By methodically analyzing situations and deconstructing complexities, critical thinkers emerge as adept problem solvers, rendering them invaluable assets in the workplace.

☑ Refined Decision-Making

Navigating dilemmas in your career path resembles traversing uncertain terrain. Critical thinking acts as a dependable GPS, steering you toward informed decisions. It involves weighing options, evaluating potential outcomes, and confidently choosing the most favorable path forward.

☑ Enhanced Teamwork Dynamics

Within collaborative settings, critical thinkers stand out as proactive contributors. They engage in scrutinizing ideas, proposing enhancements, and fostering meaningful contributions. Consequently, the team evolves into a dynamic hub of ideas, with the critical thinker recognized as the architect behind its success.

☑ Communication Prowess

Effective communication is the cornerstone of professional interactions. Critical thinking enriches communication skills, enabling the clear and logical articulation of ideas. Whether in emails, presentations, or casual conversations, individuals adept in critical thinking exude clarity, earning appreciation for their ability to convey thoughts seamlessly.

☑ Adaptability and Resilience

Perceptive individuals adept in critical thinking display resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges. Instead of succumbing to panic, they assess situations, recalibrate their approaches, and persist in moving forward despite adversity.

☑ Fostering Innovation

Innovation is the lifeblood of progressive organizations, and critical thinking serves as its catalyst. Proficient critical thinkers possess the ability to identify overlooked opportunities, propose inventive solutions, and streamline processes, thereby positioning their organizations at the forefront of innovation.

☑ Confidence Amplification

Critical thinkers exude confidence derived from honing their analytical skills. This self-assurance radiates during job interviews, presentations, and daily interactions, catching the attention of superiors and propelling career advancement.

So, how can one cultivate and harness this invaluable skill?

✅ developing curiosity and inquisitiveness:.

Embrace a curious mindset by questioning the status quo and exploring topics beyond your immediate scope. Cultivate an inquisitive approach to everyday situations. Encourage a habit of asking “why” and “how” to deepen understanding. Curiosity fuels the desire to seek information and alternative perspectives.

✅ Practice Reflection and Self-Awareness:

Engage in reflective thinking by assessing your thoughts, actions, and decisions. Regularly introspect to understand your biases, assumptions, and cognitive processes. Cultivate self-awareness to recognize personal prejudices or cognitive biases that might influence your thinking. This allows for a more objective analysis of situations.

✅ Strengthening Analytical Skills:

Practice breaking down complex problems into manageable components. Analyze each part systematically to understand the whole picture. Develop skills in data analysis, statistics, and logical reasoning. This includes understanding correlation versus causation, interpreting graphs, and evaluating statistical significance.

✅ Engaging in Active Listening and Observation:

Actively listen to diverse viewpoints without immediately forming judgments. Allow others to express their ideas fully before responding. Observe situations attentively, noticing details that others might overlook. This habit enhances your ability to analyze problems more comprehensively.

✅ Encouraging Intellectual Humility and Open-Mindedness:

Foster intellectual humility by acknowledging that you don’t know everything. Be open to learning from others, regardless of their position or expertise. Cultivate open-mindedness by actively seeking out perspectives different from your own. Engage in discussions with people holding diverse opinions to broaden your understanding.

✅ Practicing Problem-Solving and Decision-Making:

Engage in regular problem-solving exercises that challenge you to think creatively and analytically. This can include puzzles, riddles, or real-world scenarios. When making decisions, consciously evaluate available information, consider various alternatives, and anticipate potential outcomes before reaching a conclusion.

✅ Continuous Learning and Exposure to Varied Content:

Read extensively across diverse subjects and formats, exposing yourself to different viewpoints, cultures, and ways of thinking. Engage in courses, workshops, or seminars that stimulate critical thinking skills. Seek out opportunities for learning that challenge your existing beliefs.

✅ Engage in Constructive Disagreement and Debate:

Encourage healthy debates and discussions where differing opinions are respectfully debated.

This practice fosters the ability to defend your viewpoints logically while also being open to changing your perspective based on valid arguments. Embrace disagreement as an opportunity to learn rather than a conflict to win. Engaging in constructive debate sharpens your ability to evaluate and counter-arguments effectively.

✅ Utilize Problem-Based Learning and Real-World Applications:

Engage in problem-based learning activities that simulate real-world challenges. Work on projects or scenarios that require critical thinking skills to develop practical problem-solving approaches. Apply critical thinking in real-life situations whenever possible.

This could involve analyzing news articles, evaluating product reviews, or dissecting marketing strategies to understand their underlying rationale.

In conclusion, critical thinking is the linchpin of a successful career journey. It empowers individuals to navigate complexities, make informed decisions, and innovate in their respective domains. Embracing and honing this skill isn’t just an advantage; it’s a necessity in a world where adaptability and sound judgment reign supreme.

So, as you traverse your career path, remember that the ability to think critically is not just an asset but the differentiator that propels you toward excellence.


For Businesses

For students & teachers, what is career readiness and why is it important.

Career readiness is the process of preparing students of any age with the essential skills they need to find, acquire, maintain, and grow within a job, as defined by Applied Educational Skills. 

Career readiness includes such important topics as

  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • emotional intelligence
  • financial literacy
  • time management
  • stress management 

Preparing students for life after school also includes both in-class instruction and apprenticeships, internships, externships, and co-ops, which encourage students to put their newly acquired skills to practice and even pick up new real-world skills they can’t necessarily acquire from inside a classroom. 

Career readiness education is critical in schools because it prepares students for life after college as they begin their careers, equipping them with the skills necessary to navigate the workforce. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation , career readiness skills, or what they refer to as transferable or employability skills, “provide students with a competitive edge during interviews and internships for current and future careers” and “can differentiate a good employee from a great one.” These critical skills, not often made a priority in schools, give students the edge they need to land jobs. 

Current Career Readiness Standards

College- and career-ready standards are becoming more popular both at the national and state level. The U.S. Department of Education says that “students need to be prepared to compete in a world that demands more than just basic skills” – skills that students can use to think critically, solve problems, and be successful in the real world – and that starts with establishing nationwide academic standards and assessments that states can easily follow and implement. According to the Department of Education, many states have begun to develop their own standards in line with national standards in an effort to ensure college and career readiness in their students . 

In 2009, the Common Core State Standards Initiative was established in an effort to outline standards for what students should know at the end of each grade and to ensure students are equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in college, work, and life. The standards were designed with college and career readiness in mind, emphasizing college and career expectations, higher-order thinking skills, and student success in the global economy and society.  

What Is the Skills Gap and How Does Career Readiness Address It?

The skills gap refers to “a fundamental mismatch between the skills that employers rely upon in their employees, and the skills that job seekers possess,” according to the Brookings Institution . This gap makes it difficult for both individuals to find jobs and employers to find skilled employees – employers are simply not interested in spending time and effort to teach employees the skills and knowledge that they should be bringing to the job themselves. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers , there are stark contrasts between how employers perceive students entering the job market and how students perceive themselves entering the workforce. For example, “employers often rate the proficiency of recent college graduates lower than do the students themselves,” suggesting that employers see a major skills gap where college students don’t.

The skills gap widens when schools fail to prioritize teaching students career readiness skills before they graduate. By incorporating career readiness education into their curriculum, schools can help to close this gap because teaching real-world skills to students prepares them for landing jobs after school. 

What Should a Career Readiness Curriculum Cover?

Career readiness curriculum should cover various subjects and skills for the real world, including problem-solving, career exploration, career readiness assessment, and other soft skills. In addition to these higher-order thinking skills, career readiness should include STEM, focusing largely on critical math, science, and career concepts. Today, STEM skills are used in every industry, so all students benefit from learning STEM skills as a part of their career readiness education. That’s why it’s vital to incorporate both real-world and STEM skills into career readiness – that way students are prepared to enter the workforce and can avoid getting stuck in the skills gap. 

Free Career Readiness Resources For Teachers

EVERFI has a variety of turnkey career readiness courses you can easily include in your curriculum. Our no cost resources are designed to equip educators with the tools necessary to help their students prepare for the future. If you have career readiness standards to comply with, we can help guide you toward a solution.

Career Readiness Courses 

Career readiness for high school students , keys to your future.

As students progress through their journey, they identify goals based on their interests and skills, learn what they can do now to achieve their goals, determine whether they will go to college (and how to pay for it) or go into the workforce as well as learn the soft skills needed to be successful regardless of the path chosen. 

Career Readiness for Middle School Students


Half personal finance. Half college and careers. Middle school students act as a mayor helping constituents solve such issues as choosing a career, paying for college, and growing a business. Students also get to apply what they learned as they build their own blueprint to obtain their desired career.

STEM Career Exploration for Elementary & Middle School Students

Future goals – hockey scholar.

With both a math and science edition, this course leverages highly interactive gameplay of hockey to expose students to foundational STEM concepts through real-life applications and careers. 

Entrepreneurship  for Middle & High School Students

Students get to feel the excitement and see the complexity of being their own boss as they build a food truck business. With the help of real-world case studies and personalized diagnostic activities, students build a business plan that leads to the successful launch of their company.

STEM Career Exploration for Middle School Students

Endeavor – career exploration.

Teachers will be able to excite even the most unenthusiastic middle schooler as they take fun self-assessments and explore possible STEM careers based on their interests and personality traits. Afterward, students design a custom sneaker, fix a “smart home” that’s gone haywire, build a perfect playlist for their listeners, diagnose and care for patients, and develop video games.

Career Readiness for Elementary Students 

Getting elementary students thinking about income and careers is easy when you have five friends and superheroes to help. In this program, students help friends make short and long term goals, choose careers and identify current money making opportunities. They then get to apply that knowledge to themselves through interactive self-assessments.

Career Readiness FAQs

What 3 major skill areas does career readiness involve.

Career readiness typically encompasses a broad range of skills. However, if we categorize them into three major skill areas, they would be:

  • Technical Skills: These are specific skills needed to perform a certain job or occupation. They often require training or experience in a particular field. For example, programming languages are technical skills necessary for many jobs in the tech industry.
  • Transferable (or Soft) Skills: These are skills that are applicable in various job roles and industries. Examples include communication skills, problem-solving skills, leadership abilities, teamwork, adaptability, and time management.
  • Career Management Skills: These skills are essential for navigating one’s career path effectively. They include abilities like self-assessment, understanding the job market, networking, job search strategies (like resume writing, interviewing), and ongoing professional development.

These skill areas, in combination, help individuals to not only secure employment after their education but also to thrive and advance in their chosen careers. It’s important for students to focus on developing skills in each of these areas to maximize their career readiness.

What skills are needed for career readiness?

Career readiness involves a variety of skills and competencies that enable an individual to successfully navigate the workplace. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), there are eight key career readiness competencies that employers often seek in college graduates. The eight key career readiness competencies are critical thinking and problem solving, oral and written communication, teamwork and collaboration, digital technology, leadership, professionalism and work ethic, career management, and global and intercultural fluency.

These competencies can be acquired and developed through a combination of coursework, co-curricular activities, internships, work experience, and involvement in campus and community activities.

How does career readiness help college students?

Career readiness equips college students with a range of skills that are desirable in the workforce. This not only includes discipline-specific knowledge but also essential soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability.

By focusing on career readiness, colleges help students prepare for life after graduation, making sure they can apply their learning effectively in the professional world.

Free Career Readiness Resources for K-12 Educators

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Critical Thinking and Effective Communication: Enhancing Interpersonal Skills for Success

communication and critical thinking

In today’s fast-paced world, effective communication and critical thinking have become increasingly important skills for both personal and professional success. Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze situations, gather information, and make sound judgments, while effective communication involves not only conveying ideas clearly but also actively listening and responding to others. These two crucial abilities are intertwined, as critical thinking often mediates information processing, leading to a more comprehensive understanding and ultimately enhancing communication.

The importance of critical thinking and effective communication cannot be overstated, as they are essential in various aspects of life, including problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building. Additionally, these skills are indispensable in the workplace, as they contribute to overall productivity and foster a positive and collaborative environment. Developing and nurturing critical thinking and effective communication abilities can significantly improve both personal and professional experiences, leading to increased success in various realms of life.

Key Takeaways

  • Critical thinking and effective communication are essential skills for personal and professional success.
  • These abilities play a vital role in various aspects of life, including problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building.
  • Developing and honing critical thinking and communication skills can lead to increased productivity and a more positive, collaborative environment.

Critical Thinking Fundamentals

Skill and knowledge.

Critical thinking is an essential cognitive skill that individuals should cultivate in order to master effective communication. It is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understand the logical connections between ideas, identify and construct arguments, and evaluate information to make better decisions in personal and professional life [1] . A well-developed foundation of knowledge is crucial for critical thinkers, as it enables them to analyze situations, evaluate arguments, and draw, inferences from the information they process.

Analysis and Evidence

A key component of critical thinking is the ability to analyze information, which involves breaking down complex problems or arguments into manageable parts to understand their underlying structure [2] . Analyzing evidence is essential in order to ascertain the validity and credibility of the information, which leads to better decision-making. Critical thinkers must consider factors like the source’s credibility, the existence of potential biases, and any relevant areas of expertise before forming judgments.

Clarity of Thought

Clarity of thought is an integral element of critical thinking and effective communication. Being able to articulate ideas clearly and concisely is crucial for efficient communication [3] . Critical thinkers are skilled at organizing their thoughts and communicating them in a structured manner, which is vital for ensuring the transmission of accurate and relevant information.

In summary, mastering critical thinking fundamentals, including skill and knowledge, analysis of evidence, and clarity of thought, is essential for effective communication. Cultivating these abilities will enable individuals to better navigate their personal and professional lives, fostering stronger, more efficient connections with others.

Importance of Critical Thinking

Workplace and leadership.

Critical thinking is a vital skill for individuals in the workplace, particularly for those in leadership roles. It contributes to effective communication, enabling individuals to articulate their thoughts clearly and understand the perspectives of others. Furthermore, critical thinking allows leaders to make informed decisions by evaluating available information and considering potential consequences. Developing this skill can also empower team members to solve complex problems by exploring alternative solutions and applying rational thinking.

Decisions and Problem-Solving

In both personal and professional contexts, decision-making and problem-solving are crucial aspects of daily life. Critical thinking enables individuals to analyze situations, identify possible options, and weigh the pros and cons of each choice. By employing critical thinking skills, individuals can arrive at well-informed decisions that lead to better outcomes. Moreover, applying these skills can help to identify the root cause of a problem and devise innovative solutions, thereby contributing to overall success and growth.

Confidence and Emotions

Critical thinking plays a significant role in managing one’s emotions and cultivating self-confidence. By engaging in rational and objective thinking, individuals can develop a clearer understanding of their own beliefs and values. This awareness can lead to increased self-assurance and the ability to effectively articulate one’s thoughts and opinions. Additionally, critical thinking can help individuals navigate emotionally-charged situations by promoting logical analysis and appropriate emotional responses. Ultimately, honing critical thinking skills can establish a strong foundation for effective communication and emotional intelligence.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is essential in building strong relationships and achieving desired outcomes. It involves the exchange of thoughts, opinions, and information so that the intended message is received and understood with clarity and purpose. This section will focus on three key aspects of effective communication: Verbal Communication, Nonverbal Communication, and Visual Communication.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is the use of spoken or written words to convey messages. It is vital to choose the right words, tone, and structure when engaging in verbal communication. Some elements to consider for effective verbal communication include:

  • Being clear and concise: Focus on the main points and avoid unnecessary information.
  • Active listening: Give full attention to the speaker and ask questions for clarification.
  • Appropriate language: Use language that is easily understood by the audience.
  • Emotional intelligence: Understand and manage emotions during communication.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication involves gestures, body language, facial expressions, and other visual cues that complement verbal messages. It plays a crucial role in conveying emotions and intentions, and can often have a significant impact on the effectiveness of communication. Some key aspects of nonverbal communication are:

  • Eye contact: Maintaining eye contact shows that you are attentive and engaged.
  • Posture: Good posture indicates confidence and credibility.
  • Gestures and facial expressions: Use appropriate gestures and facial expressions to support your message.
  • Proximity: Maintain a comfortable distance from your audience to establish rapport.

Visual Communication

Visual communication involves the use of visual aids such as images, graphs, charts, and diagrams to support or enhance verbal messages. It can help to make complex information more understandable and engaging. To maximize the effectiveness of visual communication, consider the following tips:

  • Relevance: Ensure that the visual aids are relevant to the message and audience.
  • Simplicity: Keep the design and content simple for easy comprehension.
  • Consistency: Use a consistent style, format, and color scheme throughout the presentation.
  • Accessibility: Make sure that the visual aids are visible and clear to all audience members.

In conclusion, understanding and implementing verbal, nonverbal, and visual communication skills are essential for effective communication. By combining these elements, individuals can establish strong connections, and successfully relay their messages to others.

Critical Thinking Skills in Communication

Listening and analyzing.

Developing strong listening and analyzing skills is crucial for critical thinking in communication. This involves actively paying attention to what others are saying and sifting through the information to identify key points. Taking a step back to analyze and evaluate messages helps ensure a clear understanding of the topic.

By improving your listening and analyzing abilities, you become more aware of how people communicate their thoughts and ideas. Active listening helps you dig deeper and discover the underlying connections between concepts. This skill enhances your ability to grasp the core meaning and identify any ambiguities or inconsistencies.

Biases and Perspective

Recognizing biases and considering different perspectives are essential components of critical thinking in communication. Everyone has preconceived notions and beliefs that can influence their understanding of information. By being aware of your biases and actively questioning them, you can strengthen your ability to communicate more effectively.

Considering other people’s perspectives allows you to view an issue from multiple angles, eventually leading to a more thorough understanding. Approaching communications with an open and receptive mind gives you a greater ability to relate and empathize with others, which in turn enhances the overall effectiveness of communication.

Problem-Solving and Questions

Critical thinking is intrinsically linked to problem-solving and asking questions. By incorporating these skills into the communication process, you become more adept at identifying issues, formulating solutions, and adapting the way you communicate to different situations.

Asking well-crafted questions helps you uncover valuable insights and points of view that may be hidden or not immediately apparent. Inquiring minds foster a more dynamic and interactive communication; promoting continuous learning, growth, and development.

Ultimately, enhancing your critical thinking skills in communication leads to better understanding, stronger connections, and more effective communication. By combining active listening, awareness of biases and perspectives, and problem-solving through questioning, you can significantly improve your ability to navigate even the most complex communications with confidence and clarity.

Improving Critical Thinking and Communication

Methods and techniques.

One approach to improve critical thinking and communication is by incorporating various methods and techniques into your daily practice. Some of these methods include:

  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Analyzing information from multiple perspectives
  • Employing logical reasoning

By honing these skills, individuals can better navigate the complexities of modern life and develop more effective communication capabilities.

Problem-Solving Skills

Developing problem-solving skills is also essential for enhancing critical thinking and communication. This involves adopting a systematic framework that helps in identifying, analyzing, and addressing problems. A typical problem-solving framework includes:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Gathering relevant information
  • Evaluating possible solutions
  • Choosing the best solution
  • Implementing the chosen solution
  • Assessing the outcome and adjusting accordingly

By mastering this framework, individuals can tackle problems more effectively and communicate their solutions with clarity and confidence.

Staying on Point and Focused

Staying on point and focused is a critical aspect of effective communication. To ensure that your message is concise and clear, it is crucial to:

  • Determine the main purpose of your communication
  • Consider the needs and expectations of your audience
  • Use precise language to convey your thoughts

By maintaining focus throughout your communication, you can improve your ability to think critically and communicate more effectively.

In summary, enhancing one’s critical thinking and communication skills involves adopting various techniques, honing problem-solving skills, and staying focused during communication. By incorporating these practices into daily life, individuals can become more confident, knowledgeable, and capable communicators.

Teaching and Training Critical Thinking

Content and curriculum.

Implementing critical thinking in educational settings requires a well-designed curriculum that challenges learners to think deeply on various topics. To foster critical thinking, the content should comprise of complex problems, real-life situations, and thought-provoking questions. By using this type of content , educators can enable students to analyze, evaluate, and create their own understandings, ultimately improving their ability to communicate effectively.

Instructors and Teachers

The role of instructors and teachers in promoting critical thinking cannot be underestimated. They should be trained and equipped with strategies to stimulate thinking, provoke curiosity, and encourage students to question assumptions. Additionally, they must create a learning environment that supports the development of critical thinking by being patient, open-minded, and accepting of diverse perspectives.

Engaging Conversations

Conversations play a significant role in the development of critical thinking and effective communication skills. Instructors should facilitate engaging discussions, prompt students to explain their reasoning, and ask open-ended questions that promote deeper analysis. By doing so, learners will be able to refine their ideas, understand various viewpoints, and build their argumentation skills, leading to more effective communication overall.

Critical thinking and effective communication are two interrelated skills that significantly contribute to personal and professional success. Through the application of critical thinking , individuals can create well-structured, clear, and impactful messages.

  • Clarity of Thought : Critical thinking helps in organizing thoughts logically and coherently. When engaging in communication, this clarity provides a strong foundation for conveying ideas and opinions.
  • Active Listening : A crucial aspect of effective communication involves actively listening to the messages from others. This allows for better understanding and consideration of multiple perspectives, strengthening the critical thinking process.
  • Concise and Precise Language : Utilizing appropriate language and avoiding unnecessary jargon ensures that the message is easily understood by the target audience.

Individuals who excel in both critical thinking and communication are better equipped to navigate complex situations and collaborate with others to achieve common goals. By continuously honing these skills, one can improve their decision-making abilities and enhance their relationships, both personally and professionally. In a world where effective communication is paramount, mastering critical thinking is essential to ensuring one’s thoughts and ideas are received and understood by others.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the essential aspects of critical thinking.

Critical thinking involves the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information in order to make sound decisions and solve problems. Essential aspects of critical thinking include asking better questions , identifying and challenging assumptions, understanding different perspectives, and recognizing biases.

How do communication skills impact problem-solving?

Effective communication skills are crucial in problem-solving, as they facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, and perspectives. Clear and concise communication helps ensure that all team members understand the problem, the proposed solutions, and their roles in the process. Additionally, strong listening skills enable better comprehension of others’ viewpoints and foster collaboration.

How does language influence critical thinking?

Language plays a key role in critical thinking, as it shapes the way we interpret and express information. The choice of words, phrases, and structures can either clarify or obscure meaning. A well-structured communication promotes a better understanding of complex ideas, making it easier for individuals to think critically and apply the concepts to problem-solving.

What strategies can enhance communication in critical thinking?

To enhance communication during critical thinking, individuals should be clear and concise in expressing their thoughts, listen actively to others’ perspectives, and use critical thinking skills to analyze and evaluate the information provided. Encouraging open dialogue, asking probing questions, and being receptive to feedback can also foster a conducive environment for critical thinking.

What are the benefits of critical thinking in communication?

Critical thinking enhances communication by promoting clarity, objectivity, and logical reasoning. When we engage in critical thinking, we question assumptions, consider multiple viewpoints, and evaluate the strength of arguments. As a result, our communication becomes more thoughtful, persuasive, and effective at conveying the intended message .

How do critical thinking skills contribute to effective communication?

Critical thinking skills contribute to effective communication by ensuring that individuals are able to analyze, comprehend, and interpret the information being shared. This allows for more nuanced understanding of complex ideas and helps to present arguments logically and coherently. Additionally, critical thinking skills can aid in identifying any underlying biases or assumptions in the communicated information, thus enhancing overall clarity and effectiveness.

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8 problem-solving activities to consider for your employee development program.

8 Problem-Solving Activities To Consider For Your Employee Development Program

Why Is Problem Solving Important For Employee Development?

The biggest organizations in the world rank problem solving third in their skill requirements. Problems are a daily occurrence, and people are called to face them and think of practical and viable solutions. An employee with a problem-solving mindset can work on issues independently and effectively. To achieve that, people must shift their thinking and treat obstacles as opportunities to grow instead of as insurmountable challenges. Problem-solving activities can help them learn to identify the issue, describe the result, and patiently think of possible solutions and their outcomes.

The Benefits Of Problem-Solving Activities

Every professional wants to feel productive in their workplace, and there are a variety of development opportunities. Team activities are a vehicle for coworkers to grow their skills further, especially their problem-solving capabilities. Their critical thinking is encouraged since they need to analyze a situation and evaluate the possible outcomes. They approach each challenge proactively, and their solutions are more likely to be unconventional. Moreover, teamwork improves collaboration and communication skills and builds trust. Individuals learn to self-manage their tasks and responsibilities with extra confidence. Employees get better at time management and prioritize work based on urgency. Therefore, they can handle stressful situations where they must use analytical thinking and help their coworkers remain calm.

8 Team Activities That Build A Problem-Solving Mindset

1. egg drop.

Many people may have encountered this activity in science class. As it turns out, it is also a great way to help coworkers bond and grow their problem-solving skills. For this activity, members can split into small teams of three to six people. The goal is to create a contraption that will secure and protect the egg from breaking. It has to be effective in case the egg is dropped from a desk or the top of a building. Each team can use any material available around the workplace. Some of the materials include newspapers, paper clips, straws, tape, cotton balls, balloons, etc. Teams have 15 minutes to decide on the best strategy and building materials. They need to brainstorm and think of every possibility before rejecting or accepting it. It is important to imagine all the different outcomes before choosing the best course of action. After 15 minutes, they can start building the device that best protects the egg.

2. Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower

Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower is exactly as fun as it sounds. Team members are divided into small groups and are given 20 uncooked sticks of spaghetti, a roll of tape, and small marshmallows. They have 30 minutes to build the highest tower possible using the provided materials and are prohibited from using any additional objects for support. Also, they can add a marshmallow at the top of the tower to test how durable it is. To achieve victory, team members must collaborate and carefully analyze every action. They also need to be very delicate with how they handle the spaghetti since one wrong move can destroy the entire tower.

3. Domino Effect Challenge

This problem-solving activity is an accurate representation of how any business operates, meaning that anything an individual does has an impact on the entire organization. And one problem often needs the collaboration of different teams to be solved. This game is the embodiment of these two principles and very simple to organize. The first steps are to find a domino image you want to recreate and to divide a team into two groups. Separate the image in two equal parts and give them to each team. During a one-hour time frame, teams must prepare their side of the final image. After they're finished, they will need to combine the two parts in 30 minutes. It is the most tricky part of the game since everyone should show excellent communication skills.

4. Frostbite

For this game, each team should consist of four to five members. They are provided with a packet of construction materials like card stock, rubber bands, sticky notes, and a blindfold. Teams pick one of their members to be their leader. The goal is to build a shelter to protect themselves from a storm that will hit them in exactly 30 minutes. However, their leader can't help them due to frostbite, while the rest of the members temporarily can't see due to snow blindness. So, the leader can only give verbal instructions to the blindfolded members. In the end, they will turn on a fan to check the durability of their construction.

5. Virtual Murder Mystery

Many businesses have shifted to hybrid or fully remote workplaces, but that doesn't mean they can't organize fun activities. The entire team will gather in a video meeting, and every participant is given a character and their backstory. One of them will be the murderer. The entire team has to collaborate and analyze the available clues. They must rely on nonverbal communication, like body language and eye contact, to notice any dishonesty. The team decides on the game's time limit and works closely to uncover the murderer.

6. Shrinking Vessel

This is one of the most bonding problem-solving activities that brings coworkers physically close. All they need is a rope or string they will place on the ground to create a boundary. Each team needs to step inside the rope and pretend it is a slowly shrinking vessel. Someone outside the rope keeps tightening it. As a result, team members have less space to stand on and have to think of creative solutions to fit inside. Every solution is accepted as long as it helps them stay within the rope. The last team standing within the designated area wins.

7. Human Knot

It's a demanding exercise that doesn't require splitting into teams. All team members stand in a big circle. Every person must hold hands with two coworkers who are not standing directly next to them. They create a severely tangled circle of arms. A leader who isn't participating steps in to instruct individuals about their moves. Everyone can pitch in and suggest ideas; however, the leader has a clearer vision of the tangled arms. Thanks to their suggestions, coworkers will start detangling their arms and finally solve the big knot.

8. Cardboard Boat

This activity will make everyone feel like children again and encourage them to tap into their creativity. A team needs to be divided into groups of four to six people. The only materials available are cardboard and tape. The goal is to build a waterproof boat that will not sink when placed in water. Every team has 20 minutes to complete their project. Once finished, they must explain their tactic and why it is superior to others. At last, they need to put their boats in a body of water to check if they are waterproof. To make the challenge harder, they can tie a string at the tip of the boat and race it through the water to check its durability.

Problem-solving activities are not only a fun way to help coworkers interact but also an efficient communication-building tool . Individuals form proactive mindsets that improve their productivity and help them handle risk calmly. Specifically, they learn to reinforce the four Ps: prep, plan, perform, and perfect. They understand how crucial brainstorming is and why respecting different points of view can catapult everyone to success.

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includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

Essential Non-Technical Skills Your IT Team Needs

includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

While technical prowess is undoubtedly important, it’s not the only factor that determines the effectiveness of an IT team. In fact, non-technical skills are often equally, if not more, important in ensuring that your IT team operates efficiently and delivers exceptional results.

As the cloud continues to play a central role in IT operations, CSPM becomes increasingly essential for safeguarding sensitive data and protecting against evolving cybersecurity threats. Ensuring the security and integrity of cloud-based resources is a complex challenge, one that necessitates not only technical acumen but also a firm grasp of non-technical skills. Below are five essential non-technical skills that your IT team needs to thrive:

1. Communication Skills

Effective communication is arguably the most critical non-technical skill for IT professionals. Since IT projects often involve collaboration with multiple stakeholders, without strong communication skills , misunderstandings can arise. This could lead to project delays, budget overruns, and even the failure of critical initiatives.

​Being able to listen actively is the foundation of good communication. IT team members should attentively listen to the concerns, ideas, and feedback of their colleagues and clients. This not only ensures that everyone feels heard but also helps in gaining a deeper understanding of the project requirements.

Since technical jargon can be confusing for non-technical stakeholders, IT professionals should be able to explain complex concepts in simple, understandable terms. Clear and concise communication reduces the risk of misinterpretation and fosters better collaboration.

​Effective presentation skills are essential when IT team members need to convey complex technical information to non-technical audiences. Being able to create compelling presentations and deliver them with confidence can make a significant difference in project success.

2. Problem-solving and Critical Thinking

The IT world is full of challenges and unexpected issues. From system crashes to security breaches, IT professionals encounter problems that demand swift and effective solutions. This is where problem-solving and critical thinking skills come into play.

​IT professionals should have the ability to analyze complex situations, break them down into manageable components, and identify the root causes of problems. This analytical approach enables them to develop effective strategies for resolution .

Since not all IT issues have straightforward solutions, creativity is valuable when it comes to finding innovative ways to address problems. IT team members who can think outside the box are often the ones who come up with game-changing solutions.

With the IT landscape constantly evolving, professionals must adapt to new technologies, methodologies, and tools. Being open to change and having the ability to quickly learn and apply new information is crucial in this field.

​IT professionals are also often required to make critical decisions, whether it’s choosing a new technology stack or prioritizing tasks during a system outage. Effective decision-making skills, backed by data and critical thinking, are essential for minimizing risks and maximizing outcomes.

3. Time Management and Organization

IT projects often involve tight deadlines and numerous tasks that must be executed with precision. Without strong time management and organizational skills , IT teams can easily become overwhelmed and miss important deadlines, resulting in project delays and increased costs.

Not all tasks are equally important. IT professionals should be able to prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency, ensuring that critical projects receive the attention they require. Keeping track of time spent on various tasks is vital for accurate project planning and resource allocation. Time-tracking tools can help IT professionals stay on top of their schedules.

Ensuring efficient task management is crucial to complete projects on time and within budget. IT teams can leverage tools like project management software for planning, assigning, and tracking tasks. Adherence to deadlines is equally important for IT teams since it’s a sign of professionalism and reliability. IT team members should be committed to delivering projects on time, even in the face of unexpected challenges.

4. Customer Service and Empathy

While IT teams may not have direct customer-facing roles in all organizations, they often serve internal customers – their colleagues and teammates. Providing exceptional customer service and showing empathy can greatly enhance the working relationships within the organization.

Understanding the needs and frustrations of end-users or colleagues experiencing technical issues is crucial. Empathetic IT professionals can provide support that is not only technically proficient but also considerate of the user’s perspective.

Since technical problems can be frustrating for users, especially those who are not tech-savvy, IT professionals should have the patience to guide users through issues step by step, without judgment.

Proactive communication is vital for IT teams since they can build trust and goodwill by keeping users informed about the progress of issue resolution. Even if a problem cannot be immediately solved, regular updates can go a long way in managing expectations.

IT professionals should also actively seek feedback from users and colleagues to identify areas for improvement. By listening to suggestions and concerns, they can refine their processes and provide even better service in the future.

5. Teamwork and Collaboration

In the IT field, projects are rarely the work of a single individual; they often require the coordinated efforts of a team. Teamwork and collaboration skills are paramount for IT professionals. The ability to work effectively with colleagues, both within the IT department and across different functional areas, can make or break a project.

IT projects often involve cross-functional teams, where individuals from diverse backgrounds and skill sets must work together. IT professionals should be able to bridge the gap between technical and non-technical team members, facilitating effective communication and collaboration.

Additionally, conflicts can arise within teams, whether due to differences in opinion, work style, or external pressures. IT professionals should be skilled in resolving conflicts constructively, finding compromises, and fostering a harmonious work environment.

IT professionals should also be willing to mentor and assist their colleagues, promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Encouraging the sharing of knowledge and best practices within the team can boost efficiency and innovation. 

Adaptability in team dynamics is also an essential skill for IT teams since teams can change in composition and structure over time. IT professionals should be adaptable to different team dynamics, integrating seamlessly with new members and contributing positively to the team’s goals. 

Non-technical skills are indispensable for IT professionals to excel in their roles and contribute positively to the organization’s success. Communication, problem-solving, time management, customer service, teamwork, and leadership skills are all essential components of a well-rounded IT team. Nurturing and developing these non-technical skills can enable IT professionals to navigate the complexities of the IT landscape and drive innovation and efficiency within their organizations.

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What Are Soft Skills?

Learn about soft skills, what they are, what skills employers seek in an employee, and the steps you can take to improve so you can add them to your resume.

[Featured Image]:   Two co-workers, sitting at a desk, discussing a project, an example of communication or workplace skills at the workplace.

Soft skills are the attributes and behaviours that describe how a person approaches their tasks. You likely use soft skills across all areas of your life—communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and other interpersonal skills are some examples of soft skills—but they’re particularly valued in the workplace.

In fact, soft skills are commonly referred to as workplace or human skills. These alternative names can be a bit more descriptive when you’re thinking about and discussing your skill set.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the high-value workplace skills employers look for and offer some tips for improving yours.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard skills describe what you do, while soft skills describe how you do it.

Your hard skills are your technical skills, relating to the types of tasks you know how to do. Some examples of technical skills are data analysis, computer programming, writing, and UX design. When you complete a task, you often use a combination of hard and soft skills—technical skills to guide your process and workplace skills to encourage effective outcomes.

What workplace skills are employers looking for?

Workplace skills can offer insight into a person’s approach to work beyond the technical aspects of their role. For many employers, how you do something is just as important as what you are doing—especially when it comes to long-term learning, growth, and success.

According to the Government of Canada, essential skills are becoming increasingly important for businesses to remain competitive. Workplace education and initiatives are important to close employee performance gaps [ 1] .

Essential skills include:

Continuous learning

Oral communication

Effective communication

Teamwork and collaboration

Critical thinking and problem-solving

Employers may consider workplace skills to forecast a person’s future potential. This type of character analysis may come into play when choosing the leads for a new project or deciding whether an employee is ready for a promotion. Hiring managers also assess workplace skills to determine whether a job candidate will be a good fit for a specific team.

Soft skills examples

Different employers will value workplace skills differently. Here are some examples of desirable workplace skills:

Active listening



Critical thinking




Strategic thinking

Time management

Ways to improve your workplace skills 

Since workplace skills are largely tied to behaviour, improving them may involve shifting your regular patterns, approaches, or thought processes. This type of work tends to require practice and patience, but over time, you’ll likely notice more ease as you tap into your workplace skills.

Although they’ve traditionally been seen as harder to learn than technical skills, there are several ways to build upon your existing workplace skills. If you have a specific skill in mind that you’d like to improve, think about ways you can implement that skill into your daily life. You can also consult a life coach for help developing a personalised plan of action.

Here are some ideas for improving your workplace skills:

1. Practise different communication styles.

People tend to prefer different communication styles, whether that’s delivery methods—such as conversation, email, or text—or the manner of the delivery, like passive, aggressive, or assertive communication. In addition to your communication skills, considering how you might approach communicating in different situations can be an opportunity to practise adaptability, critical thinking, and strategic thinking.

To practise different communication styles, you might try to express the same idea in various ways, by writing it down, describing it aloud, and putting it into a presentation, or to various audiences.

2. Join a group project.

Beyond demonstrating your ability to take the initiative, joining a group project can offer opportunities to practise several workplace skills, such as teamwork, time management, and active listening. As a bonus, group projects can enable you to bring your technical skills into a collaborative environment.

To join a group project, take an interest in what colleagues are working on and offer your help where it may be beneficial, or look for opportunities within your local community.

3. Learn something new.

Learning something new can expand your typical way of thinking and encourage growth. There are strong links between learning and creativity, so whatever you decide to learn, you stand to gain technical knowledge and enhance your creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

To learn something new, check out the class offerings at your local college or art centre, or browse popular free courses on Coursera.

4. Socialize with teammates.

You use workplace skills in every interaction you have. Simply getting to know your teammates can be an effective way to practise your communication and active listening skills, and it can create opportunities for future collaboration.

If it feels appropriate, approach socializing with your teammates with an interest in their lives, as well as a willingness to share about your own.

5. Suggest improvements to processes.

As you build your technical and workplace skills, you may notice some opportunities to improve how things are done in your workplace. Thinking critically about processes, recognizing problems, and finding viable solutions are all valued workplace skills.

To suggest improvements to processes, you may want to ask your manager about their preferred process and what type of information they’ll need to assess your suggestions.

6. Ask for feedback.

Many workplace skills have an element of interactivity, and sometimes an outside perspective can help illuminate things you are doing well and areas you may want to focus on improving.

Similarly, offering feedback to others can be an opportunity to practise active listening, leadership, and teamwork.

To ask for feedback, turn to your manager, recent project collaborators, or other colleagues you’ve built relationships with.

How to include workplace skills on a resume

Including your workplace skills on your resume can be less intuitive than including your technical skills, but there are opportunities to do so within your summary, objective, or in a special skills section. Additionally, you can select action words that align with the skills you want to demonstrate within your work experience section. Then, you can use your cover letter to share further details.

Remember that workplace skills are reflected in how you approach your work, so when you discuss your successes, share what you did, how you did it, and your impact.

Keep learning

Continue working on your workplace skills with Coursera. Browse popular workplace skills courses from top institutions and industry leaders, or check out IBM’s People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success Specialization . Sign up for a free seven-day, all-access trial and start learning today.

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Article sources

Government of Canada. " Building Essential Skills in the Workplace ," Accessed February 27, 2023.

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  1. 10 Essential Critical Thinking Skills (And How to Improve Them)

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

  2. Critical Thinking Skills

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

  3. How to develop critical thinking skills?

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

  4. Looking for ideas to incorporate critical thinking and problem solving into your classroom

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

  5. is problem solving and critical thinking the same thing

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills

  6. Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

    includes communication critical thinking problem solving and teamwork skills


  1. 6 Effective Strategies for Developing Exceptional Communication Skills Part 1

  2. Learn to Code: 10 Powerful Reasons Why Programming is Essential for Success

  3. BizBuzz Podcast: Key Areas for Business Students

  4. Examples of assignments that demonstrate mastery of each transferrable skill Communication Critical

  5. Graduate Attributes

  6. In-demand Skills College Students Need


  1. 11 Essential Soft Skills In 2023 (With Examples)

    From communication and collaboration to adaptability and problem-solving, soft skills are the foundation of effective teamwork and organizational success. In this article, we will explore...

  2. PDF Critical Thinking, Communications, And Teamwork

    Beyond technical competence, employers consistently rank communication skills, teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving as the primary skills that they seek in prospective employees1. Beyond employment, these traits could be defined as critical success skills for a rapidly changing world.

  3. What Are Soft Skills?

    Effective communication. Teamwork and collaboration. Critical thinking and problem-solving. Employers may consider workplace skills to forecast a person's future potential. This type of character analysis may come into play when choosing the leads for a new project or deciding whether an employee is ready for a promotion.

  4. Soft skills 101: Definition + 50 Examples

    communication teamwork problem-solving critical thinking adaptability time management leadership creativity emotional intelligence (More examples below)

  5. Soft Skills: The Competitive Edge

    These skills include: Professionalism or work ethic. Oral and written communication. Teamwork and collaboration skills. Critical thinking or problem-solving skills. Companies have identified the following competencies as key to the success of young workers in the 21st century workplace.

  6. 8 soft skills you need for the workplace and how to get them

    Soft skills are common sense, core abilities like critical thinking, effective writing, understanding general hierarchies, an aptitude for teamwork, the ability to read tone and body language, public speaking and other communication skills.

  7. Common Employability Skills Framework

    Communication Critical & Creative Thinking Digital Literacy Leadership & Initiative Navigating & Using Information Self-Management Teamwork & Collaboration

  8. Developing critical thinking, collective creativity skills and problem

    Collaborative problem-solving skills are paramount within the context of 21st-century learning skills development. These skills include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication (4Cs). This research examines the elements of motivation, play and collaborative practice within a design activity, called Design Jam. Design Jams ...

  9. Developing critical thinking, collective creativity skills and problem

    These skills include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication (4C's).

  10. Communication, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving: A Suggested Course

    The skills of communication, critical thinking, and problem solving are essential to thriving as a citizen in the 21st century. These skills are required in order to contribute as a member of society, operate effectively in post-secondary institutions, and be competitive in the global market. Unfortunately they are not always intuitive or simple in nature. Instead these skills require both ...

  11. PDF Professionalism

    Employers want new workers to be responsible, ethical, and team oriented, and to possess strong communication, interpersonal, and problem solving skills. Wrap these skills up all together and you've got professionalism. behavior and work effectively with others. High quality work standards, honesty, and integrity are also part of the package.

  12. 5 Top Critical Thinking Skills (And How To Improve Them)

    Top 5 critical thinking skills. Here are five common and impactful critical thinking skills you might consider highlighting on your resume or in an interview: 1. Observation. Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. People who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem.

  13. Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration

    For example, Voogt and Roblin (2012, p. 299) examine the "21st century competences and the recommended strategies for the implementation of these skills", and Graesser et al. (2022, p. 568) state that twenty-first-century skills "include self-regulated learning, collaborative problem solving, communication (…) and other competencies".

  14. 8 'Soft' Skills You Really Need to Land Your Dream Job

    In particular, these missing skills include critical thinking/problem solving, attention to detail, communication, ownership, leadership, interpersonal skills/teamwork, grit, and curiosity. (See the infographic below for the eight soft skills managers said are most often missing among recent college graduates in the PayScale report.)

  15. Global employability skills in the 21st century workplace: A semi

    Rosenberg, Heimler, and Morote [56] outlined eight dimensions of basic employability skills with 47 items, such as basic numeracy skill and literacy, critical thinking skill, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, adaptability, interpersonal skill, management skill, leadership skill, application of I.T. skill, system thinking skill, and work ...

  16. Critical Thinking for Team Collaboration: A Guide to Effective Problem

    Key Takeaways Critical thinking enhances team collaboration by improving communication and decision-making processes. Developing a clear understanding of critical thinking skills is essential for effective collaboration and problem-solving.

  17. 6 Main Types of Critical Thinking Skills (With Examples)

    1. Analytical thinking Being able to properly analyze information is the most important aspect of critical thinking. This implies gathering information and interpreting it, but also skeptically evaluating data.

  18. The effectiveness of collaborative problem solving in promoting

    Collaborative problem-solving has been widely embraced in the classroom instruction of critical thinking, which is regarded as the core of curriculum reform based on key competencies in the field ...

  19. Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It's Important

    Work on projects or scenarios that require critical thinking skills to develop practical problem-solving approaches. Apply critical thinking in real-life situations whenever possible. This could involve analyzing news articles, evaluating product reviews, or dissecting marketing strategies to understand their underlying rationale. In conclusion ...

  20. What Is Career Readiness & Why Is It Important?

    The U.S. Department of Education says that "students need to be prepared to compete in a world that demands more than just basic skills" - skills that students can use to think critically, solve problems, and be successful in the real world - and that starts with establishing nationwide academic standards and assessments that states can easily f...

  21. How to Evaluate Facilities Engineering Communication Skills

    To evaluate their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, you can give them a case study, a scenario, or a problem to solve, or ask them to describe how they have handled a similar situation ...

  22. Critical Thinking and Effective Communication: Enhancing Interpersonal

    Key Takeaways. Critical thinking and effective communication are essential skills for personal and professional success. These abilities play a vital role in various aspects of life, including problem-solving, decision-making, and relationship-building. Developing and honing critical thinking and communication skills can lead to increased ...

  23. 8 Problem-Solving Activities For Employee Development Programs

    8 Team Activities That Build A Problem-Solving Mindset. 1. Egg Drop. Many people may have encountered this activity in science class. As it turns out, it is also a great way to help coworkers bond and grow their problem-solving skills. For this activity, members can split into small teams of three to six people.

  24. Analysis of Students' Collaborative, Communication, Critical Thinking

    The 21 st century skills include critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, and collaboration. The development of the 21 st century skills can be carried out ...

  25. The Essential Non-Technical Skills Your IT Team Needs"

    Communication, problem-solving, time management, customer service, teamwork, and leadership skills are all essential components of a well-rounded IT team. Nurturing and developing these non-technical skills can enable IT professionals to navigate the complexities of the IT landscape and drive innovation and efficiency within their organizations.

  26. JLegal Australia on Instagram: "SOFT SKILLS ARE CRUCIAL IN THE

    2 likes, 2 comments - jlegalaustralia on May 2, 2022: "SOFT SKILLS ARE CRUCIAL IN THE WORKPLACE Soft skills in the workplace are so crucial, as organis..." JLegal Australia on Instagram: "SOFT SKILLS ARE CRUCIAL IN THE WORKPLACE Soft skills in the workplace are so crucial, as organisations look to add additional value to their businesses.

  27. What Are Soft Skills?

    Essential skills include: Continuous learning Oral communication Effective communication Teamwork and collaboration Critical thinking and problem-solving Employers may consider workplace skills to forecast a person's future potential.