Four-Dimensional Education:
The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed

October 2015
192 pages

Copyright © 2015 by Center for Curriculum Redesign
All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1518642562
ISBN-10: 151864256X

“A very thoughtful treatment of the competencies our students need to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. This book will help educators understand and navigate the critical choices we are facing.”

Carol Dweck,
Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology
Stanford University

Description Watch Andreas Schleicher’s short video

“The foundational reason for why we find it so difficult to rebuild school curricula around the needs of the modern world is that we lack an organizing framework that can help prioritise educational competencies, and systematically structure the conversation around what individuals should learn at various stages of their development. Four-dimensional education provides a clear and actionable first-of-its-kind organizing framework of competencies needed for this century. Its main innovation lies in not presenting yet another one-size-fits-all list of what individuals should learn, but in crisply defining the spaces in which educators, curriculum planners, policymakers and learners can establish what should be learned, in their context and for their future.”

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills,

Praise for “Four-Dimensional Education”

From International Organizations:

“Four-Dimensional Education provides a rare and profound strategic conversation about education. By questioning the often-unstated and dated consensus about what young people learn at school, the authors make explicit the systemic boundaries that shape what is learned. Drawing the analytical lines around what is learned can be seen as an invitation to stay within the existing borders or as a challenge to step outside by imagining systemically different goals and organization of learning. Four-Dimensional Education encourages both kinds of innovative thinking.”

Riel Miller, Head of Futures,

“The content of any nation’s curriculum defines its values and reflects its hopes for future generations. In focussing on the ‘what’ of curriculum design, Four-dimensional education provides a rich and practical provocation which can inspire policymakers and practitioners.”

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education, and leader of Grand Curriculum Designs,
The Royal Society for the Arts (RSA)

“Four Dimensional Education brings a deeply cogent, synthetic, open-minded conversation to explore one of the key challenges to our society – how to transform our education systems to respond effectively to global 21st century needs and aspirations. USCIB has been privileged to be part of this conversation through a series of sponsored roundtables with the CCR bringing educators together with economists and business to bring new insights and perspectives to help students build the world we want.”

Peter M. Robinson, CEO and President,
United States Council for International Business (USCIB)

From Corporations:

“What should students learn in an age of search, robotics and artificial intelligence? The acceleration of technology and explosion of information creates the urgent need to rethink an educational system that is traditionally centered on content. Starting with a deep understanding of how modern society and workforce needs are changing, this book challenges us to take a big leap in education curricula to reflect deep competencies, including relevant modern knowledge.”

Steve Vinter, Director, Cambridge site,

A must read for anyone interested in the future of education in a rapidly changing world. The best way to predict the future is to inspire the next generation of students to build it better.”

Jim Spohrer, Director of University Programs,

“This book should be required reading for everyone involved in education and education reform. Fadel and colleagues have developed a unique language and framework map for enabling diverse stakeholders to find commonalities in their differences as well as a collection of tools to aid in developing and comparing innovative systems.”

John Abele,
Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific,
Chairman of the Argosy Foundation

“As scientists, humanitarians, engineers, and artists… as lifelong teachers and learners… as parents, and as humans… we owe it to our children to continuously prune our education curriculum, and to feed it with the nutrients of advancement— in ways which our children will encounter them in their careers, and in their lives. We must contextualize our curricula with explicit interdisciplinary constructs that will teach them how to think, how to learn, how to synthesize information and apply critical discernment. In this “living book,” the authors lay an analytical and pragmatic foundation for a novel look at K-12 education goals— one that embraces the whole brain, the whole person, and all of society’s needs. Four-Dimensional Education poses a healthy challenge to the traditional, less-relevant structures of today’s curricula. Let this book be a call to action to all of us to join in CCR’s mission, and to become actively involved in shaping the future of Earth.”

Kristen Wright, Director, Cisco Research & Open Innovation
Cisco Systems

Education needs fundamental reform from top to bottom. This book puts square and centre the need for that change at every level of thinking from curricula to pedagogy to assessment–laying out a much needed structure into which the fundamental maths and STEM reforms we are pioneering at can fit.”

Conrad Wolfram, founder,
Wolfram Research Europe

From Academic Institutions:

Four-dimensional education describes a comprehensive framework for what personalized education for the 21st century must be about: comprehensive and adaptive while allowing for choice and local needs, along all dimensions of an education not merely traditional knowledge. Educators and policymakers worldwide owe it to students and societies to rapidly operationalize these dimensions of knowledge, skills, character, and meta-learning.”

Todd Rose, Director of the Mind, Brain & Education program at the Graduate School of Education,
Harvard University

Four-Dimensional Education charts a lucid course between two research frontiers, one assessing how astounding new technologies are reshaping our future job opportunities and skill demands, and the second striving to equip our future workforce (our kids) with the skills to compete and to thrive in that future. Traversing those two frontiers, this book offers a wise and practical set of insights for empowering students and citizens to analyze, communicate, interact, and adapt.”

David Autor, Professor of Economics and Associate Department Head
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“A very thoughtful treatment of the competencies our students need to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. This book will help educators understand and navigate the critical choices we are facing.”

Carol Dweck, Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology,
Stanford University

Arguably the biggest challenge facing the human race in the 21st century is education, yet few organizations have given this as much thought and analysis as the Center for Curriculum Redesign. What does every child need to know in this age? Our system of education hasn’t changed significantly in centuries, yet the knowledge, skills, and character needed now are fundamentally changing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about the future. It is insightful, comprehensive, global, and coherent. It will set the compass direction for the next generation.

Rick Miller, President
Olin College of Engineeering

“Exponential technologies are providing us with extraordinary opportunities for solving the biggest challenges we face, but are also disrupting the old ways of doing things. Four-Dimensional Education establishes a framework for continuous learning that is necessary for youth and adults alike to stay relevant and to thrive in these exponential times.”

Rob Nail, Associate Founder & CEO
Singularity University

From Foundations and non-profit Organizations:

“As communities around the world work to ensure that all children have access to the kind of education that enables them to fulfill their true potential, the first question must be, “what are our ultimate aims?” The answers to this question will vary based on community context and culture, and yet these answers must be informed by a sense of global responsibility and an understanding of what the world will require of today’s children. This book — a treasure trove from some of the world’s foremost educational leaders — provides the latest understanding about the knowledge, skills, character, and meta-learning that will be required for global success. It is an incredible resource for local educators around the world who want to put their students on a path toward shaping the future.”

Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-founder,
Teach For All

Four-Dimensional Education offers a compelling vision for transforming education and how we look at education. In a global economy, driven by nimbleness and innovation, it is increasingly clear that success depends on the transformation of education system. This book challenges us to redefine what we mean by success at all levels of the education system from the foundations of K-12, to the entrance requirements for higher education, to what the workforce can and needs to be.

Matt Williams Vice President, Policy and Advocacy,
KnowledgeWorks Foundation

“Four-Dimensional Education provides a compelling, updated view of why education must change across the globe and what it should look like in the future, building on Fadel’s and Trilling’s first book, 21st century skills. In clear, easy to understand language, they articulate what 21st century learners need to be successful-a must read for us all.”

Dr. Helen Soule, Executive Director of P21,
The Partnership for 21st Century Learning

“We applaud CCR’s distillation of vast research on the future of education in this accessible and compelling new book. Four-Dimensional Education is a MUST READ for every globally minded leader and teacher interested in advancing their institutions through innovation. Similarly, parents interested in relevant 21stcentury education should read this book as well!”

Heather Hoerle, Executive Director,
Secondary School Admission Test Board

“Reading Four-Dimensional Education and its focus on making education more relevant in a world which is changing exponentially, reminded me of Harold Benjamin’s timeless satire, “The Saber Tooth Curriculum”, written in 1939. It tells of a fictional prehistoric society where “Saber Tooth Tiger Scaring with fire” is still part of the curriculum” though said tiger is extinct. Fast forward to the 21st century and the accelerating pace of change driven in large measure by the learners of the 20th century who somehow learned to be adaptable, savvy, versatile, collaborative and empathetic – sometimes within formal learning frameworks, often outside. In short they made the curriculum extinct. Instead of being saber-toothed they were laser-focused. By drafting a dynamic framework for learning that adapts to and reflects success, Four-Dimensional Education will serve as a catalyst for lifelong learning and reinvention. The quality of our generational futures hinges on success.”

David F. Clune Ph. D, President and CEO
Educational Records Bureau (ERB)

“Our current circumstances cry out for a new model of education. This book provides one and will be a powerful tool in the hands of those committed to preparing their students for the challenges of 21st century life and work.”

Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill, co-founders of EdLeader21
and co-authors of “The Leaders Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts”

Table of Contents


Why Rethinking the What of Education Matters So Much


A Special Note to Our Readers

Chapter 1
Redesigning Education for a Transforming World

Global Trends and Challenges


VUCA and Values

Exponential Progress and Future Predictions

Technology’s Impact on Society

Technology, Automation, Outsourcing and Jobs

The Race Between Technology and Education

Chapter 2
Education Goals for the Twenty-First Century

The Nature and Evolution of Education Goals

Societal Goals

Education Goals

Education Evolving?

Key Qualities of a Twenty-First Century Curriculum



A Unifying Framework of Educational Goals

Why a New Education Framework?

Our Theory of Change

The CCR Process

Beyond Knowledge—A Twenty-First Century Competencies Framework

Chapter 3
The Knowledge Dimension

Knowledge—Traditional and Modern

Evolving Maps of Traditional Knowledge Disciplines

Curating Traditional Disciplines for Relevance

Three Aspects of Value

Modern (Interdisciplinary) Knowledge

Human Lifespan Extension

Connected People, Organizations, and Planet

The Rise of Smart Machines and Systems

Big Data and New Media

Environmental Stresses and Demands

Amplified Humans


Information Literacy

Systems Thinking

Design Thinking

Environmental Literacy

Digital Literacy

The CCR Knowledge Framework Summarized

Chapter 4
The Skills Dimension

Knowledge and Skills Together

Skills and Eduployment Gaps


Critical Thinking



Applied Learning

Chapter 5
The Character Dimension

Why Develop Character Qualities?

Purposes of Character Education

The Six Character Qualities







Chapter Six
Meta-Learning Dimension

Metacognition—Reflecting on Learning Goals, Strategies, and Results

Internalizing a Growth Mindset

The Importance of Meta-Learning

Chapter 7
Briefly Touching on the How

A Feedback Loop between What and How

The Interplay with Technology

Chapter 8
Concluding Thoughts

Education, Evidence, and Action

Societal Meta-Learning


About CCR

About the Authors

About the Authors

Charles FadelCharles Fadel is a global education thought leader and expert, futurist, and inventor; founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign; visiting scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education; chair of the education committee at BIAC/OECD; co-author of best-selling book 21st Century Skills; founder and president of the Fondation Helvetica Educatio (Geneva, Switzerland); senior fellow, human capital at The Conference Board; senior fellow at He has worked with education systems and institutions in more than thirty countries. He was formerly Global Education Lead at Cisco Systems, a visiting scholar at MIT ESG and UPenn CLO, and an angel investor with Beacon Angels. He holds a BSEE, an MBA, and five patents. Charles’ full biography is at:


Maya-BialikMaya Bialik is a writer, editor, and research synthesizer at CCR, who is passionate about appropriate interpretation and the application of science at the personal and the policy levels. She is also co-founder and associate director of, a non-profit that improves the relationship between science and society. She leads workshops on science communication, improvisation, and interdisciplinarity. Maya holds a Master’s degree in Mind, Brain & Education from Harvard, and her background includes research and writing in complex systems, education, environmental science, psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. Follow her on twitter @mayabialik.


Bernie TrillingBernie Trilling is founder and CEO of 21st Century Learning Advisors and the former Global Director of the Oracle Education Foundation. He has served as board member of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), co-chaired the committee that developed the P21 rainbow-learning framework, and is currently a P21 senior fellow and an American Leadership Forum senior fellow. He was director of the Technology In Education group at WestEd, a U.S. national educational laboratory, and was executive producer for instruction at Hewlett-Packard Company, where he helped lead a pioneering global interactive distance-learning network. Bernie co-authored 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times and has written chapters for books such as the Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills collection. He is a featured speaker and workshop leader at numerous educational gatherings.

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