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The Four Pillars of Learning in the 21st Century

A desire to learn continuously through one’s lifetime is a mark of a 21st century learner. The International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century to UNESCO, headed by Jacques Delors, identified learning throughout life as a key to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The Commission’s 1996 report, Learning: The Treasure Within, highlighted the need for individuals to"learn how to learn” to cope with the rapid changes and challenges of the present and the future. It describes a holistic approach to learning that encompasses more than what occurs in the classroom. This is referred to as lifelong learning - a philosophy that involves the development of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values throughout one’s life—from early childhood through adulthood. Learning is seen not just as an intellectual process, but one that encompasses all aspects of an individual’s life, including their role in the community, performance in the workplace, personal development, and physical well-being.

The report presented a framework that organized lifelong learning into four pillars: learning to know, learning to live together, learning to do, and learning to be. The four pillars of learning are seen as fundamental principles for reshaping 21st century education.

The Four Pillars of Learning is proposed as a framework to understand what students need to acquire and develop in themselves. Knowing these pillars and applying them to your own learning can help you develop the KSAVs required to fulfill your tasks and roles as a provider of quality and relevant education to your students.

An Overview of the Four Pillars of Learning

Source: Graphics adapted from “Four Pillars of an Effective Sales Service (2011)."

The following are brief descriptions of the four pillars of learning.

Learning to Know

Learning to Know involves the acquisition and development of knowledge and skills that are needed to function in the world. Examples of skills under this pillar of learning include literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking.

Learning to Live Together

Learning to Live Together involves the development of social skills and values such as respect and concern for others, social and inter-personal skills and an appreciation of the diversity among people. These skills would enable individuals and societies to live in peace and harmony.

Learning to Do

Learning to Do involves the acquisition of skills that would enable individuals to effectively participate in the global economy and society. These skills are often linked to occupational success, such as vocational and technical skills, apprenticeships, and leadership and management competencies.

Learning to Be

Learning to Be involves activities that promote holistic personal development (body, mind and spirit), for an all-round ‘complete person.’ These include cultivating one’s self analytical and socials skills, creativity, personal discovery and an appreciation of the inherent value provided by these pursuits. An example under this pillar is a teacher who participates in training workshops that will enhance his/her knowledge and skills in the teachinglearning process.

Did you notice the arrow that spans across the four pillars of learning? What do you think does this arrow represent? If you mentioned “lifelong learning,” you are correct! The framework takes into account that learning in the 21st century is a continuous building of skills and knowledge throughout the life of an individual. It occurs through experiences encountered in the course of a lifetime.

What do the four pillars of learning mean to you? Do Activity 1.7 and find out.

Module 1 Contents