EdTech Development Opportunities in Social & Emotional Learning

16 Skills Students Need to be Successful in the 21st Century

A recent report from the World Economic Forum, New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology, outlines the 16 skills that students need to learn to be successful in the 21st century. They note that 65% of students entering grade school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. The following skills are grouped into three categories:

Foundational Literacies: How students apply core skills to everyday tasks:

  1. Literacy
  2. Numeracy
  3. Scientific literacy
  4. ICT literacy – information and communication technology
  5. Financial literacy
  6. Cultural and civic literacy


Competencies: How students approach complex challenges.

  1. Critical thinking/problem solving
  2. Creativity
  3. Communication
  4. Collaboration


Character Qualities: How students approach their changing environment.

  1. Curiosity
  2. Initiative
  3. Persistence/grit
  4. Adaptability
  5. Leadership
  6. Social and cultural awareness


Although the report writers state that these are the skills needed for the workforce of the future, I would argue that these skills are needed today. The way companies work is changing rapidly, and workers with the above skills will increasingly have the largest number of opportunities and provide the greatest value to their companies.

Specific Opportunities to use Technology to Advance SEL

The report identifies two specific opportunities for edtech companies:

  • Embed SEL into academic products that promote literacy and numeracy.
  • Embrace new technologies such as wearable devices, virtual reality & apps.

The report writers state, “that SEL is highly effective when developed through direct instruction in the child’s early years and when embedded in the core curriculum as students progress through elementary and secondary schooling.”

Schools use one of three basic ways to develop students’ social and emotional skills. They are 1) taught directly through specific SEL curriculum, 2) they are embedded in existing academic curriculum, or 3) they are included in teaching practices such as inquiry- or project-based learning.

There is Money to Invest in SEL Technology

The reporters’ research shows that investment in edtech for all age groups has increased 32% annually since 2011 from $1.5 billion to $4.5 billion in 2015 with preschool through secondary receiving the bulk of the investment. They also note that 77% of the total investments has been in the US, and that 70% has been spent on multimedia content and platforms for online courses, tutoring, foreign language content, literacy and standards-based content for Common Core programs.

“Investors put $440 million into companies designing programs to track, assess and improve student performance and outcomes, mainly those that emphasize foundational literacies and Common Core standards.”

For classroom teachers, the primary benefit to SEL skills is that classroom discipline improves. At the moment, this short-term benefit outranks the longer-range benefits of increased collaboration and communication and higher grades and achievement scores that have also been demonstrated through research.

Successful companies today are already altering their hiring practices in a shift to find more workers with defined skill sets and experience rather than a degree or academic certification. We are shifting to a competency-based work model in which the ability to learn, synthesize information, and communicate are more important than general knowledge.

Defined SEL strategies and their definitions are listed in the report’s appendix along with a detailed list of features to include in edtech products and the specific skills they develop and support. You can get a copy of the full report here. There is a wealth of useful information for edtech companies that want to support social and emotional learning.