Select Page

In 2012, the National Education Association (NEA) updated its 21st Century Learning framework that identifies the “Four Cs” – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity as essential skills for students to possess and teachers to teach. The NEA report, “Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society” identifies these skills as those that learners will need to possess to be successful in the workplace. This framework is really focused on the K-12 environment, but it is applicable to any institution where learning takes place – including higher education and corporate training.

photo of a laptopSince these skills are considered to be essential in the workplace, teachers and trainers should be sure to place emphasis on them in a variety of ways through their teaching techniques and methods. They can easily employ the use of technology tools to help learners achieve these essential skills.  Here are some suggestions that educators might want to try out to reach this goal. Just like in my last blog post, these are all free tools:

Critical Thinking 

Promoting critical thinking helps learners to apply new knowledge beyond just memorizing facts and figures.  The hallmarks of critical thinking highlight learners’ ability to assess, analyze, compare and question.  These technology tools are good ones to help stimulate the critical thinking process:

  1. Mindmap– This is a great Chrome app that students and teachers can use for mind mapping activities.  Mind mapping is an excellent way to get students to make those mental connections on virtually any topic. You can also access the tool’s website directly here.
  2. Exploratree– This is an application that uses the concept of “thinking guides” to enable students and teachers to create mind maps, flow charts, and a variety of other graphs to help organize thoughts.
  3. Flowchart– This is another tool to create flow charts and graphs.  The one difference is that with Flowchart, learners can collaborate in real time on the same project.  It is a web-based tool with nothing to download.


Obviously, communication is one of those skills that is essential to teach and for students to learn. But, people communicate in a variety of ways.  Students should learn to communicate using different methods to get their point across and should be able to do so as effectively as possible in oral, written, and nonverbal ways.  The following tools will help students practice their communication skills and would be an excellent way for second language learners to practice:

  1. Chirbit– This is a voice recording tool that enables anyone to record up to five minutes of audio. The audio recording is assigned a URL and the file can be embedded into web pages. A neat feature of this tool is the ability for others to respond to a voice comment. Students can have threaded voice-based conversations on the Chirbit website. The original creator immediately receives an email when someone has responded to their original post.
  2. Toontastic– This is an iPad app that students can use to create digital stories. This tool can be used to communicate with images and animations to present stories in a unique way using a mobile device.
  3. AnyMeeting– If teachers want to teach digital communication, then a real-time online meeting tool is a must for a digital toolkit! This tool is one of many that are free if you don’t mind the ads.  Up to 200 people can meet at the same time and share screens and resources as well as present content.  This tool would be a great way to encourage students to give presentations of content or practice speaking to a group of people. 


While online meeting applications are a great way to collaborate on projects, there are other tools that can achieve collaboration on different levels. The main purpose of collaborative activities is to give student practice in working together in teams.  This is often easier said than done in an online environment.  These tools will give you some ways to accomplish online collaboration:

  1. Stormboard– This is an online brainstorming application where up to five users at a time can collaborate on a wall-type environment.  This tool would be appropriate for small group projects for both online and face-to-face coursework.
  2. Wiggio– This is a great tool for collaborative activities.  Not only can it host virtual meetings, but students can post text and voice messages, upload and manage files, create polls and to-do lists and manage calendars.  It’s the perfect tool for all kinds of academic groups.
  3. Google Sites– Wikis are my favorite type of collaborative activity.  This tool is a long-time standard for free wiki environments.  Users are only required to have a Google account (which many people do already) and they can create and share web pages.  Users can work together to create a website on virtually any topic imaginable.  Pages can be populated with text, images, video, and a variety of widgets like Twitter feeds or other social media elements.


And finally, we come to creativity.  There are many tools that foster creativity in students in so many different ways. So, I am presenting some really creative ideas to help get your own creative juices flowing and use technology in ways you may not have considered.  Here we go:

  1. Soundtrap – This is a web-based tool that is used to create music. Students can plug in instruments or use the digital instruments in the application or they can even record singing using a microphone. There is also a collaborative option where groups can work together to create music.  Finally, the recordings can be downloaded as .mp3 files for sharing and posting.
  2. 123D Catch– This is a free app available for both iPad and Android.  Take plain 2D images and turn them into 3D projects! It is a simple process of taking pictures of something from different angles and then the app does the rest.  Pretty creative, right?
  3. SumoPaint– This is another online tool that can be used to create digital artwork.  It has a very similar look and feel to the very expensive Photoshop.  It does many of the same things though and has the same basic tools and features – but it’s free!  Use this tool to edit images or create new works of digital art.  Files can be saved and used in any way you want.


Linda Kaiser, Ph.D. is the Academic Program Manager for Post University’s Instructional Design and Technology program. Kaiser is an experienced instructional design professional with a Master’s degree in Instructional Technology and a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.