4D Competencies

What Should Students Learn for the 21st Century?

The Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) has established twelve cross-cutting Competencies in three learning Dimensions – Skills, Character, and Meta-Learning – which, combined with the Knowledge Dimension, forms CCR’s 4-Dimensional framework, or “4D” model of education. These Competencies are components of a teaching practice that often falls into categories called Social/Emotional Learning (SEL), “21st century skills”, or Metacognitive skills.

Origins of the Framework

The 4D framework was developed by CCR through extensive research and synthesis of dozens of frameworks from around the world. A full copy of the book “Four-Dimensional Education” that explains the 4D model is available for free download at http://bit.ly/4DEdupdf. We have since identified 60 subcompetencies described here, and continued research with educators.

Teaching the Competencies

The graphic below provides an overview of the Competencies (click to enlarge):

4D Venn Diagram


In far too many instances, educators are asked to teach these Competencies in isolation, for example, teaching collaboration as an additional lesson to teaching Mathematics. At CCR, we believe that these skills should be infused into the content area teaching, not taught as an add-on to it.

For example, a Physical Education teacher might teach Collaboration as part of a lesson on how to play a team sport; s/he might teach Leadership as part of this same activity in which a leader must be chosen (“based on what skills, why that person?”); and might teach Ethics in an activity in which students formulate their own game, setting rules for the game.

Teaching in this way does not add to the burden of what a teacher is asked to do. It is a seamless and natural strategy for teaching these skills while teaching Knowledge (academic or content knowledge) at the same time. We know that this is an effective way to teach. How do we know? We asked teachers and we conducted deep research.

We conducted two years of research studies in which we had teachers from 8 different content disciplines – Mathematics, Science, English Language Arts (native language), Social Studies Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Physical Education and Computer Science – teach lessons in which they infused Skills, Character, and Meta-Learning into their lessons.


It is easy to imagine that, teaching one of these competencies – Critical Thinking, for example – encompasses covering a great deal of material. To make it more logical and relevant, CCR spent time researching the sub-components, or subcompetencies, that make up each of these competencies.

Of the four dimensions, traditional education pays the most attention to Knowledge. In the 4D framework, this Knowledge is essential but not sufficient: it is particularly valuable when a learner can transfer the Knowledge to new contexts, and apply its principles outside the purview of a single discipline.

To achieve this, a teacher must dynamically infuse into instruction the remaining three dimensions: Skills, Character, and Meta-Learning. To make these dimensions actionable, we organize them down into the twelve (12) competencies and sixty (60) subcompetencies.

During the course of the research, educators taught at the subcompetency level. The subcompetencies are shown in chart form on the following pages. In each section, you will find:

  • The competency;
  • The subcompetencies;
  • “Includes” – additional words that can apply to the subcompetency.


The 4D Model in Greater Detail


Knowledge – What We Know

The CCR Knowledge Framework is shown below (click to enlarge).

Knowledge framework


For greater detail on the CCR Knowledge Framework, please explore Knowledge for the Age of Artificial Intelligence: What Should Students Learn?


Skills – How We Use What We Know

The Skills dimension features competencies commonly referred to as “the four C’s” (or Higher-Order Thinking Skills, and as part of “21st Century Skills”).” Proficiency at these competencies allows learners to use what they know in real-world, practical contexts:

The Skills dimension features competencies commonly referred to as “the four C’s” (or Higher-Order Thinking Skills, and as part of “21st Century Skills”).” Proficiency at these competencies allows learners to use what they know in real-world, practical contexts (click to enlarge):

Skills Framework


For more information on Skills, please visit CCR Higher-Order Thinking Skills Framework.


Character – How We Behave and Engage in the World

The Character dimension features qualities that are commonly referred to as social-emotional learning (SEL), behaviors, attitudes, values etc (click to enlarge):

Character Framework


To learn more about CCR’s Character framework, visit Character Education for the 21st Century: What Should Students Learn?


Meta-Learning – How We Reflect and Adapt

Meta-learning is the 4th dimension, which works in tandem with the other three, in focusing on a person’s ability to learn how to learn (click to enlarge):











CCR’s Meta-Learning framework is described in more detail here.

A “whole learner for a whole world” must develop appropriate levels of abilities in all 4 dimensions, to serve themselves and society to the most fulfilling extent possible. This is the foundation of our work and of the competencies and subcompetencies, and that of our professional learning courses.

To learn more about the Center for Curriculum Redesign and the 4D Framework, please click here.