Charles Fadel: Four-Dimensional Education

The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed

Charles Fidel is a global education thought leader and expert, futurist, and inventor; founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign; visiting scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Charles Fidel is a global education thought leader and expert, futurist, and inventor; founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign; visiting scholar at Harvard Graduate School of Education.


This report focuses on the competencies that will be required for our students to be successful in tomorrow's world.  Fadel argues that schools need to become innovative in their approach to curricula. Whilst recognition is given to the need for knowledge it acknowledges that education today is becoming more about creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. There is also the need for qualities of character to become prominent.

Fadel also discusses the need to create 'versatilists' instead of specialists. Versatilists are able to transfer their knowledge to a variety of domains, whereas specialists are rarely able to transfer their knowledge outside of their known domains.

Fadel emphasises the need for students to move from an individual approach to learning to one which is founded on collaboration. Collaboration that is recognises differences and cultural origins.

Finally Fadel aims to create a framework that will enable school curricula to be developed from - a framework of competencies. The OECD's Education 2030 further builds on this framework.

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As alluded to above the world is changing at a rapid pace and education has, and is, struggling to keep up. Fadel asks what should actually be learned to prepare our kids for this future. The framework proposed by Fadel focuses on knowledge (what students know and understand), skills (how they use their knowledge), character (how they behave and engage the world), and meta-learning (how they reflect on themselves and adapt by continuing to learn and grow towards their goals).

Chapter 1: Redesigning Education for a Transforming World

A number of global trends are listed to support the redesigning of education. Sustainability is essential as the population explodes.  Resources used by people in 1 year take the earth 1.5 years to produce. This is clearly not sustainable. Set this alongside a future that will be more volatile, uncertain, complex and contain greater ambiguity than ever before and exponential growth in technology and you have an exciting but challenging concoction.

Briefly, the expansion in technology is a double edged sword. Sacks states 'Technology gives us power, but it does not, and cannot, tell us how to use that power'. This is up to us to decide. Every piece of growth has both positive and negative effects. Facebook for example can be a magnificent tool to connect people but also one that fosters bullying amongst our teenagers. There is a certain amount of fear that comes with technology. This can be likened to the development of the writing press a few hundred years ago.  Also, the notion was commonly held that technology would make life easier but we are now working harder and longer than ever before. Why is that?

With technology in mind it is clear that education needs to switch from routine-based impersonal tasks towards more complex, personal, and creative tasks that only humans can do.

H.G Wells describes 'Civilisation as a race between education and catastrophe'. This highlights the need for education to adapt to the changing technological environment.

Goals in education are also changing. There is a shift towards personal fulfilment, wellbeing. This is recognised by the Better Life Initiative developed by the OECD in Paris.

Check out the slides and videos above. These are extremely useful creations by the OECD.

Chapter 2: Education Goals for the Twenty-First Century

Fadel claims the main goals of education are:

  • Child Care

  • Socialisation

  • Accreditation and Evaluation

  • Education Goals, Standards and Curricula


The last one is the main focus for this report.​ The challenge for education has been to make changes to a rigid, system that is saturated and has shown little future progress in generations. Basically the education system has suffered inertia.

Key qualities of the 21st century curriculum are:

  • Adaptability

  • Balance


A balance between ​knowledge, traditional subjects, depth and breadth, STEAM, mind and body, outcome and process, personal and societal goals, global and local perspectives, and social progress. A tough challenge to say the least!

Fadel proposes a new framework. The need is to design a curriculum that focuses on wisdom not information. The framework has been developed in collaboration with the OECDs Education 2030 project.
























Chapter 3: The Knowledge Dimension

Knowledge still forms the basis for much of our learning, both in schools and universities. The arrival if the information age has increased knowledge and the ease of accessing it. This new knowledge is also able to be connected and manipulated with greater simplicity than ever before.

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The traditional subject disciplines in education systems are:

  • Maths

  • Science

  • Languages - domestic

  • Languages - foreign

  • Social Studies

  • Arts (including Music)

  • Wellness (PE)

Traditional systems, such as those listed above, largely focus on the quantity of testable knowledge that a child can recall rather than the depth of understanding and ability to use knowledge with competencies.

Fadel describes four ways of dissecting any discipline in order to identify its essential components:

  • Concepts and Meta-Concepts

  • Proceeds, Methods and Tools

  • Branches, Subjects and Topics

  • How can We Make Constructs More Interdisciplinary

With this in mind why not group traditional knowledge differently, say according to ideas and the like. Feasibility makes this difficult. Also, and in addition to dissecting the disciplines, each subject has three aspects:

  • Practical

  • Cognitive

  • Emotional


With all this in mind the Knowledge Forecast 2020 predicted huge changes in the world and what they might mean.

  • Human Lifespan Extension -  a larger workforce, individuals having more careers

  • Connected People, Organisations, and Planet - exponential increases in the speed information is disseminated

  • Rise of the Smart Machines and Systems - emphasis on technological savvy and non-automatable

  • Environmental Stresses and Demands - humans are using more and more environmental resources at an unprecedented rate. This will lead to a massive competition for resources.

  • Amplified Humans - science is enabling humans to extend their powers (prosthetics, genetics)


With all this taken into account Fidel argues that there is the need to look at the saturated curriculum through interdisciplinary ways, making connections between ideas. The following are interdisciplinary ways Fadel has identified:

  • Technology and Engineering

  • Bioengineering

  • Media

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Wellness

  • Personal Finance

  • Social Systems

Information Literacy

According to Google every two days we create as much information as we created from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Fidel argues that in order to deal with a multitude of information people need...

  • Dynamic disposition

  • Cultural lenses

  • Comfort with competing evidence

  • Source credibility

  • Informed orientation

  • Identify leaps of logic

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an essential element that is required in order to deal with the challenges that lay ahead.

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Chapter 4: The Skills Dimension

  • Knowledge and Skills Together - apply skills to content knowledge - enhances both

  • Skills and Employment Gaps - OECD Skills Outlook identifies a range of those required to be successful in the future

CCR aims to focus on Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration.

Knowledge and skills developed together. Applied together.

Chapter 5: The Character Dimension

Character education is about the acquisition and strengthening of virtues (qualities), values (beliefs and ideals), and the capacity to make choices for a well-rounded life and thriving society.

Character decisions and choices are becoming prominent. Technology can be both positive and negative in its use.

Purpose of character education

  • Build a foundation for lifelong learning

  • Support successful relationships at home, community and workplace

  • Develop personal values and virtues for sustainable participation in a globalised world

The religious aspect is not necessary for the teaching or character qualities.

The Six Character Qualities

Character encompasses all terms - agency, attitudes, behaviours, dispositions, mindsets, personality, temperament, values, beliefs, social and emotional skills, non-cognitive skills, and soft skills.

Character qualities - how we behave and engage in the world. This is distinct from skills - the ability to effectively use what one knows. Fadel argues that knowledge and skills are not enough to prepare kids for the future, character qualities are required.

  • Mindfulness - the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding experiences of the moment.

  • Curiosity - curiosity is both a trait (general capacity) and a state (sensitive to context and malleable with experience). It can be seen as an individual's drive to minimise the unpleasantness of uncertainty.

  • Courage - the ability to act despite fear of uncertainty, in risky situations or when feeling vulnerable.

  • Resilience - the ability or set of qualities that allow one to overcome obstacles. Grit plays a major role here - the perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

  • Ethics - the acquisition of morality.

  • Leadership - the relational and ethical process of people attempting to accomplish positive change together.

Chapter 6: The Meta-Learning Dimension

The meta layer is where students practice reflection, learn about their learning, internalise a growth mindset that encourages them to strive, and learn how to adapt their learning and behaviours based on goals.

Metacognition - the process of thinking about thinking.

Metacognition improves the application of knowledge, skills and character qualities.

Students with a higher level of self-efficacy are more likely to engage in metacognition.

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Growth Mindset


A growth mindset supports metacognition. Students with a growth mindset see mistakes as learning opportunities and gain higher levels of achievement.

In summary - metacognition is key to recognising opportunities for improvement and a growth mindset is necessary to believe that one can successfully improve.