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Deeper Learning Competencies


V1.1/Last update 02-26-2018CM

Consider learning to windsurf….

It is possible to learn windsurfing through reading, study and…or perhaps even imagining…

but, it is seems more likely to be learned by...doing…failing…mentoring…falling...trying again…

So…How do people learn deeply?   

What leads to deep learner engagement?

How do students come to own their own learning?

Six Deeper Learning Competencies 

The Deeper Learning competencies support learning by inquiry, problem finding and solving about relevant, complex, real world challenges.  The Hewlett Foundation has defined deeper learning as:

A set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job.

In a report from the National Research Council, there are three broad skill areas that students need to navigate the demands of the 21st century.* Here are the Deeper Learning Competencies:

Cognitive Competencies (thinking and reasoning)

Think Critically and Solve Complex Problems  As students seek to tackle problems, they must be able to analyze those problems, develop solutions, and carry out plans to address them. Teachers integrate these skills into instruction through engaging activities that rely on competencies such as researching, brainstorming, and design thinking.

Master Academic Content  In addition to building foundational academic skills in reading, math, science, and social studies, teachers use many approaches to support students taking their learning and exploration to the next level. These approaches -- such as rooting projects in real-world problems or mapping facts and concepts to help build on prior knowledge -- enable students to connect ideas and apply knowledge across content areas. 

Intrapersonal Competencies (self-management to reach goals)

Learn How to Learn  In addition to guiding students through instruction, teachers help them become self-directed learners who drive their own exploration. With support from their teachers, students set goals, track their progress, reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement, and can turn setbacks into opportunities for growth.

Develop Academic Mindsets Beyond learning academic skills, students need to become life-long learners who take initiative, are persistent, and build relationships to access resources. Teachers support these mindsets through activities and discussions that focus on ethical behavior, resilience, and mindfulness.

Interpersonal Competencies (expressing information to others and interpreting others)

Work Collaboratively  Working collaboratively in school helps students become better team members in the future as they learn to identify strengths, assign responsibilities, and reflect on successes. By planning thoughtful group activities, creating expectations around group work, and encouraging conversations about open-mindedness, teachers support these skills. 

Communicate Effectively  Students develop their communication skills throughout their academic careers as writers, presenters, artists, and team members. Teachers strengthen those skills by providing students tools to communicate clearly, effectively, and persuasively across all grades and subjects.


Learning Targets from the Deeper Learning Competencies

A deeper description of the Deeper Learning Competencies from the Hewlett Foundation points to targets that describe the competencies. They form a backbone of learning targets enabling students to be skilled for school, work, and life.

From "Deeper Learning Competencies." Hewlett Foundation, 2013.

The foundation of deeper learning is mastery of core academic content, whether in traditional subjects such as mathematics or in interdisciplinary fields which merge several key fields of study. Students are expected to be active participants in their education. Ideally, they are immersed in a challenging curriculum that requires them to seek out and acquire new knowledge, apply what they have learned, and build upon that to create new knowledge.

Cognitive research shows that students learn more when they are engaged in their studies and see them as important. The brain functions by organizing information into databases where things that relate to one another are connected. It determines what is worth holding onto, discarding information it considers useless. At the same time, it organizes for future reference information that is tapped frequently to accomplish important tasks.

The typical worksheet, drill-and-memorize, and test preparation approach to classroom teaching actually makes it difficult for students to retain the myriad bits of information they encounter during the school year. More effective is an instructional method that requires students to use important information repeatedly in complex and meaningful ways such as writing papers or completing projects.

Deeper learning activities should draw upon a clearly defined knowledge base to which students have previously been exposed or to which they will be introduced systematically in the context of their academic work. Activities that are not linked to the development of academic content knowledge and skills should be viewed with caution.

In practice, deeper learning prepares students for post secondary education. They should graduate from high school equipped to:

1. Master core academic content. Students develop and draw from a baseline understanding of knowledge in an academic discipline and are able to transfer knowledge to other situations.

  • Students understand key principles and relationships within a content area and organize information in a conceptual framework.

  • Students learn, remember, and recall facts relevant to a content area.

  • Students have procedural knowledge of a content area and know how content

    knowledge is produced and how experts solve problems.

  • Students know and are able to use the language specific to a content area.

  • Students extend core knowledge to novel tasks and situations in a variety of

    academic subjects.

  • Students learn and can apply theories relevant to a content area.

  • Students enjoy and are able to rise to challenges requiring them to apply

    knowledge in nonroutine ways.

  • Students apply facts, processes, and theories to real world situations.


2. Think critically and solve complex problems. Students apply tools and techniques gleaned from core subjects to formulate and solve problems. These tools include data analysis, statistical reasoning, and scientific inquiry as well as creativity, nonlinear thinking, and persistence.

  • Students are familiar with and able to use effectively the tools and techniques specific to a content area.

  • Students formulate problems and generate hypotheses.

  • Students identify data and information needed to solve a problem.

  • Students apply tools and techniques specific to a content area to gather

    necessary data and information.

  • Students evaluate, integrate, and critically analyze multiple sources of


  • Students monitor and refine the problem-solving process as needed, based on

    available data.

  • Students reason and construct justifiable arguments in support of a hypothesis.

  • Students persist to solve complex problems.

3. Work collaboratively. Students cooperate to identify and create solutions to academic, social, vocational, and personal challenges.

  • Students collaborate with others to complete tasks and solve problems successfully.Students work as part of a group to identify group goals.

  • Students participate in a team to plan problem-solving steps and identify

    resources necessary to meet group goals.

  • Students communicate and incorporate multiple points of view to meet group


4. Communicate effectively. Students clearly organize their data, findings, and thoughts.

  • Students communicate complex concepts to others in both written and oral presentations.

  • Students structure information and data in meaningful and useful ways.

  • Students listen to and incorporate feedback and ideas from others.

  • Students provide constructive and appropriate feedback to their peers.

  • Students understand that creating a quality final communication requires review

    and revision of multiple drafts.

  • Students tailor their message for the intended audience.

5. Learn how to learn. Students monitor and direct their own learning.

  • Students set a goal for each learning task, monitor their progress towards the goal, and adapt their approach as needed to successfully complete a task or solve a problem.

  • Students know and can apply a variety of study skills and strategies to meet the demands of a task.

  • Students monitor their comprehension as they learn, recognize when they become confused or encounter obstacles, diagnose barriers to their success, and select appropriate strategies to work through them.

  • Students work well independently but ask for help when they need it.

  • Students routinely reflect on their learning experiences and apply insights to subsequent situations.

  • Students are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and anticipate needing to work harder in some areas.

  • Students identify and work towards lifelong learning and academic goals.

  • Students enjoy and seek out learning on their own and with others.

  • Students anticipate and are prepared to meet changing expectations in a variety

    of academic, professional and social environments.

  • Students delay gratification, refocus after distractions, and maintain momentum

    until they reach their goal.

  • Students use failures and setbacks as opportunities for feedback and apply

    lessons learned to improve future efforts.

  • Students care about the quality of their work and put in extra effort to do things

    thoroughly and well.

  • Students continue looking for new ways to learn challenging material or solve

    difficult problems.

6. Develop academic mindsets. Students develop positive attitudes and beliefs about themselves as learners that increase their academic perseverance and prompt them to engage in productive academic behaviors. Students are committed to seeing work through to completion, meeting their goals, and doing quality work, and thus search for solutions to overcome obstacles.

I belong in this academic community:

  • Students feel a strong sense of belonging within a community of learners and

    value intellectual engagement with others.

  • Students understand learning as a social process and actively learn from one

    another and support each other in pursuit of learning goals.

  • Students readily engage in the construction of meaning and understanding

    through interaction with peers.

I can succeed at this:

  • Students trust in their own capacity and competence and feel a strong sense of

    efficacy at a variety of academic tasks.

  • Students see themselves as academic achievers and expect to succeed in their

    learning pursuits.

My ability and competence grow with my effort:

  • Students believe that hard work will pay off in increased knowledge and skills.

  • Students are motivated to put in the time and effort needed to build a solid knowledge base and to accomplish important goals.

This work has value for me:

  • Students perceive the inherent value of content knowledge and of learning and

    developing skills.

  • Students see the relevance of school work to their lives and interests.

  • Students understand how work they do now will benefit them in the future.

  • Students know that future learning will build upon what they know and learn today.


Additional Resources

You can dive deeper in this blog by Jennifer Kabaker, Director of Educator Micro-credentials Initiative, Digital Promise. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-in-practice-jennifer-kabaker 

You can study the Deeper Learning Competencies in detail in a series of micro-credentials for teacher professional learning.   http://www.digitalpromise.org/blog/entry/supporting-deeper-learning-in-the-classroom

*National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, J. W. Pellegrino and M. L. Hilton, Editors, Board on Testing and Assessment and Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


Labels: Competencies, Deeper Learning, Micro-credentials, Deeper Learning Competencies, Think Critically and Solve Complex Problems , Master Academic Content, Learn How to Learn, Academic Mindsets , Work Collaboratively, Communicate Effectively ,
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