“Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
“La perfection est atteinte, non pas lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à retirer.”
—Antoine de Saint–Exupéry

Bernie interviewed by NPR/KQED in San Francisco

December 29, 2010 with the audio extract available here as well  Bernie at KQED 2010-12-29b-forum

“The 21st Century Skills Movement seeks to reform education to better prepare students for success in the modern workplace. Those skills include creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. We’ll talk to some Silicon Valley veterans who are working to help students attain these skills. And we’ll find out why the movement has encountered opposition from some education leaders, who favor an emphasis on core content and knowledge.

Host: Michael Krasny

Guest: Bernie Trilling, author of “21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times” and former global director of the Oracle Education Foundation

Curriculum Prioritization for the 21st Century: Relevance Required

September 16, 2010

(Also posted at:

The need to teach 21st-century skills has emerged in our collective consciousness as a key paradigm in education. For the first time since the advent of public education, there is growing consensus for the need for K-12 schools to teach for skills[1], not merely for knowledge. This has been prompted and amplified by changing economic pressures at both the macro level (globalization, thus increased competition) and the micro level (the dissolution of workforce stability).

When we explore 21st-century skills, I must state emphatically the need to also lend a watchful eye to curriculum design. It’s not enough simply to add 21st-century skills to the already-burdened curriculum; we must reprioritize our core curriculum based on what is relevant to society today to produce career- and college-ready graduates. Relevance means applicability and significance of what is taught. Today’s students are sophisticated learners who are best served by subject-matter content that applies real-world, everyday needs.  Using real-world applicability as a benchmark, many current core disciplines have too much of a theoretical bias.

For example, we continue to insist on geometry and algebra as core curriculum subjects, but perhaps there are other disciplines that should be taught more universally. Consider statistics and probability: In the modern world, statistics and probability are a branch of mathematics that has perhaps the most daily-life applicability—nearly everyone requires a basic understanding of data to be successful, from doctors to journalists to lawyers to politicians … to the person on the street—but it’s not taught until high school, and even then only if students select the course as an elective.   The same situation persists in college.

Looking beyond math, why is there so little focus on technology and engineering? Given the current socioeconomic climate, this can only be described as an oversight that runs counter to common sense, given the crying demand for science and engineering talent worldwide.

But perhaps historical inertia is the deciding factor when it comes to curriculum design. Decisions are made by subject-matter experts; e.g., math decisions are made by math experts in near isolation from the demands of the real-world—and tend to take an incremental approach – which often involves abstract concepts rather than practical topics – weighed by history and poorly informed of modern needs. There is also no process in place to ensure that curriculum is tied to real-world needs of learners, let alone to 21st-century skills.

If we really want to see positive change, we need to defuse resistance to change and redesign the curriculum from the ground up. Academia needs to look beyond its ivory tower into the real world, to design curriculum that, in addition to educating citizens, fits practical socioeconomic realities, as well as the learning styles of the growing population of digital natives.

As an education leader, what disciplines do you feel could best benefit from reprioritization and rebalancing? What would your ideal curriculum program look like?

[1] “21st Century Skills – Learning for Life in our Times” by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, Wiley/Jossey-Bass 2009

Favorable review by The Journal of General Education

August 16, 2010

The Journal of General Education, Volume 59 Number 1, 2010 E-ISSN: 1527-2060 Print ISSN: 0021-3667

By Benjamin T. Brauer

“… Lehmann states that “there should be whole new schools where kids are accomplishing things that no one ever dreamed possible” (2009, p. 19). This concept was not lost on the Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel 2009 publication Twenty-first Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Trilling and Fadel make the case that just as the face of education changed during the industrial age, we are now at the crossroads of the knowledge age and a shift in instructional delivery and curriculum must occur. Through the course of their book, these two scholars describe what this change should look like and how to accomplish such a sweeping overhaul of the American educational system. Furthermore, this book provides suggestions and applicability for classroom teachers and administrators at the K-12 level. Trilling and Fadel also discuss the change needed among the ranks of higher education. In doing so, they discuss not only the training programs for future educators and administrators but also what the college classroom of the future should look like across all fields of study, not just those in the field of education. Finally, Trilling and Fadel take a holistic approach to their call for change, by examining the role that community members, business leaders, and policy makers will take in changing the educational landscape in the twenty-first [century]…”

The National Education Association praises the book in its review

November 24, 2009

The NEA’s review can be found at:


For your convenience, the text reads:

“A book? A resource? A movie? 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel is all of that.

In their book and compelling DVD with teachers in action, authors Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel do a first-rate job of laying out what 21st century skills are all about.

The Book

The book makes clear why education must change: to help prepare students to meet complex challenges, fulfill their civic responsibilities, and live fulfilling lives. The authors carefully draw from studies, experiences, and leading education thinkers, such as Daniel Pink (writer), Howard Gardner (Harvard), and Edgar Morin (UNESCO), to portray fresh, engaging approaches to teaching and learning in America’s schools.

The authors underscore that 21st century learning begins with rich core content. This provides the basis for the knowledge students need to apply skills. Additionally, new content, such as digital literacy, is needed for students to succeed in the 21st century.

Too often policy discussions about learning stop with content, say the authors. Instead, educators should have more opportunities to focus on what students should know and be able to do. It is the application of knowledge – the doing – that describes much of 21st century skills. Trilling and Fadel say 21st century learning requires critical thinking, problem-solving, communications skills, and career and life skills.


In the DVD, the authors provide brilliant video examples of interdisciplinary learning in classrooms across the country, showcasing the talent teachers need to infuse 21st century skills in their classroom practices.

Trilling and Fadel acknowledge that educators have long-recognized the important interrelationship of knowledge with skills – the value of the lively application of learning to truly master knowledge – but unfortunately schools are not structured to routinely integrate the two.

The authors’ respect for teachers contrasts with their frustration of a system that has yet to cultivate the skills students need. Many teachers have clever ways of bending the system to bring engaging practices into the classroom, but such worthy efforts demand support. Trilling and Fadel level this book as a volley to change an educational system in order to help teachers teach and students learn.”

Thank you letter: National Science Foundation

November 15, 2009

NSF Thank you note

EdTechClassroom favorably reviews the book in its podcast

November 4, 2009

EdTech blog S2_Episode10 extract book part 1

EdTech blog S2_Episode10 extract book part 2

The book review is part of the Book Talk segment;  the relevant audio clip has been extracted here.  The reviewer Joe Wood, who frequently presents to schools on 21st century skills, liked the book and put it to work immediately in his next presentation, doing the 4 Question exercise.  Many other nice things were said in this review.

KUCR’s Dan Angelo “Education Today” interviews Bernie

November 3, 2009

KUCR, an education radio station in Southern California, featured Bernie on October 27 on “Education Today”.  Dan Angelo is the interviewer.  KUCR is based out of UC Riverside, and reaches about 20% of Southern California.

A 2-minute MP3 extract is available for your listening pleasure:  KUCR Education Today interviews Trilling

Wordle rendition of the 21st Century Skills framework

October 12, 2009

For your visual pleasure and an at-a-glance synthetic view; courtesy of

21st Century Skills framework via Wordle

Q & A on 21st Century Skills

October 2, 2009

What are 21st century skills?

➢    21st Century Skills are the set of skills students need to succeed in learning, work and life in this century.

➢    To ensure success, students need both deep understanding of the major principles and facts in core subjects (such as math, language, arts, science, history, etc.) and also be able to apply this knowledge to important contemporary themes (such as global awareness, financial, health and environmental literacy, etc.) using a variety of skills, such as:

  • Learning and Innovation Skills (critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation)
  • Digital Literacy Skills (information, media and technology literacy); and
  • Life and Career Skills (initiative and self-direction, leadership, adaptability, etc). more…

Press Release: Learning for Life in Our Times

October 2, 2009

A practical guide to the learning our students need to thrive in our times

San Francisco, CA – Imagine a classroom where students are exploring the question, “Is nuclear power a good alternative to fossil-fueled power?” One group of students studies Marie Curie’s and others’ early discoveries in the physics of radioactivity, while another group researches how modern nuclear fission and fusion works, and a third analyzes current French politics and policies on nuclear power, including an online discussion of the issues with students in France. With the aid of appropriate digital technologies, the students synthesize and share their findings with each other and propose creative alternatives and possibilities.  Then the entire class holds a debate on the issues in front of parents and members of the community, and posts its findings on the internet for other classes around the world to share in and comment on. more…