eLearn Australia - custom elearning solutions


The 4Cs of learning applied to adult learning and elearning

Thursday 28th January, 2021

Does your online learning promote the 4Cs of learning?

Often the focus in designing an online course is the effective communication of content – wanting to make sure your learners come away with the information and skills needed to do their jobs, be more effective or satisfied in life.

But in an information-saturated world, where the information and skills required are rapidly changing, learners now need more than tick-and-flick content; they need to be able to be self-directed, resourceful and adaptive in their learning.

21st Century Skills have been all the buzz in education over the last decade. Along with personal social skills and ICT, the 4Cs of Learning underpin the syllabuses of many major educational systems, giving students the opportunity to develop new ways of thinking and working that help them navigate the modern world.

The 4Cs aren’t just for the school classroom. They may have been part of more progressive educational programmes for many years but many adult learners will not have benefited from the focus on Critical Thinking, Communication, Creativity and Collaboration.

Group of diverse learners

While some may have picked up these skills in their tertiary education or work, a lifelong learning approach reminds us of the importance of refreshing, developing and honing of such essential work and life skills.

Jobs are no longer just about the performance of routine tasks – most require problem solving, thinking outside-the-box, working and communicating with others (from many cultural and linguistic backgrounds).

Even navigating the everyday decisions of life (what to eat, what to wear, how to make new friends, what goes in the recycling bin) often requires deeper thinking, curiosity, self-motivation, social awareness, identification and deliberation of alternatives, and consideration of possible futures.

The 4Cs of learning are relevant for all learners.

So what are they? And how can they be integrated into the design of effective elearning?

1. Critical thinking

Being able to think analytically, solve problems, make decision, use reason, reflect, evaluation and adapt your thinking when required.

In the real-world we need to solve problems in real-time. We need to be able to separate fact from opinion and be able to discover information for ourselves.

How could critical thinking be integrated into elearning?

  • Rather than providing all the answers for your learners, how could they be encouraged to find the information for themselves? Having a real-world problem that requires answers is a powerful motivator for self-directed learning.

  • What opportunities can be built into your elearning for learners to understand from different perspective, integrate conflicting information, challenge their own assumptions? Give learners the opportunity to reflect on how they can integrate new information.

Person looking at whiteboard

2. Creativity

Being curious, imaginative, able to see things from different perspectives and alternatives, coming up with and applying new ideas, new links, and new solutions to problems.  

How could creativity be integrated into elearning?

  • How could you provide opportunities for learners to explore possibilities? How many ways could you boil an egg? Rather than adopting a “one right way” approach, give your learners the space to brainstorm.

  • What content could be presented in a different context? Where could your learners’ imaginations go if asked to apply their learning in a galaxy far far away? Present a problem that can’t be googled.

Coloured lightbulbs

3. Communication

Being able to effectively and clearly convey ideas in a timely and succinct manner to diverse audiences through text, speech, video and imagery – being mindful of tone, directness, engaging others.

Communication is integral to effective elearning but how could the nuances of 21st century communication be integrated?

  • How could you encourage communication that uses video and imagery? Sometimes the clearest and most direct way to convey information to peers is through a video or meme.

  • What prompts could be included to raise learners’ awareness of tone in written communication?

Person working on an ipad

4. Collaboration

Being able to relate to and connect with others from diverse perspectives, and through participation and contribution, work toward a common goal

How could collaboration be integrated into elearning?

  • How could you create opportunities for learners to connect outside the online learning environment? Developing a community of inquiry enables learners to stretch their understanding through dialog with other learners, trainers, subject-matter experts and real-world workers.

  • What self-directed learning projects could benefit from working with learners from other cultures or languages? Diverse perspectives and skills from collaborating with members of the local community (or learners around the world) broaden add further opportunities for development of critical thinking, creativity and communication (and personal social skills and ICT).

Group fo people working together at a cafe

With information at our finger-tips (and rapidly changing), learning has moved beyond fact-collecting to understanding how to use ideas to navigate the 21st century world.

Rote learning, retention and comprehension are no longer adequate skills for learners to fully engage in the modern world.

Online learning will serve the needs of today’s learners through the integration of critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration – the 4Cs of learning.

Queensland Government.
21st Century Skills – Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority