Consider the range of valued competencies around digital media - including both technical skills as well as social and emotional learning and 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration and creativity—all critical to accessing future opportunity.

See skills resources

When educators mention skills in the context of technology, they are often referring to ‘hard skills’ or knowledge relating to technical practices such as aptitude using a specific tool, proficiency programing in specific coding languages or environments, or understanding the formal practices that are common in a technical field. These type of skills need to be a core part of digital learning programs, and are present in all of the experiences we share here; however, successfully teaching technical skills is only part of what is being achieved by the programs we highlight. A wide range of increasingly important social and emotional skills are being developed as well. Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills (also called 21st century skills) include: critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and adaptability, among others.

Effective informal learning organizations have to decide what mix of skills are most essential for the youth they serve, and from there, design effective programs that promote their development.

The starting point for these deliberations are questions that consider what kinds of futures an organization is looking to support: Are they looking to promote youth pathways into specific professions? To foster digitally competent citizens? To build collective agency in a neighborhood? Understanding the projected futures they hope to support should help organizations to focus considerations around the kinds of hard and soft skills they intend to develop through their programming.

In thinking about how to create programs where youth can develop comprehensive skill sets, the organizations highlighted in this toolkit demonstrate how to avoid rote approaches to teaching skills.

Shared are examples that illuminate how learning technical and SEL skills can be a deep, rich, complex and fulfilling experience when youth learn new or deepen existing technical skills within a context that matters to them. They are able to fully grasp and then extend a multitude of learned practices; they plan, progress, assess, create, express, connect and collaborate.

In short, they become comfortable integrating a range of skills into everyday life. This type of learning also reflects the multi-layered facility that future employers will expect and civic participation needs. Experiencing how to integrate the technical, social, cultural and personal practices that will be important to thrive is a key lesson for young people.

Understanding which components of youth futures an organization hopes to support will help them decide what mix of skills are most essential to teach the youth they serve and help to determine “real-world” applications that will allow youth to practice those skills. Our partner organizations consistently achieve successful outcomes for their youth through mindful practices in skill integration. Here are a few examples of how they’ve created learning environments that require students to exercise multiple skills simultaneously: