Traits and Competencies

Many countries now identify and include global competencies as a part of their curricula. Global competencies are referred to in various terms such as 21st-century learning skills, core competencies, or next-generation learning. Why are so many jurisdictions including competencies in their revised curricula?

Global Competencies, BC Core Competencies and Successful Learner Traits

This section attempts to describe the broad brushstrokes regarding the inclusion of global competencies, or 21st Century Skills, within K-12 educational curricula. This overview provides a context in which to understand how the Successful Learner Trait Framework aligns as a tool used to implement not only the Core Competencies in BC, but other competency-based frameworks as well.

Global Competencies – Transforming Education

Many countries now identify and include global competencies as a part of their curricula. Global competencies are referred to in various terms such as 21st-century learning skills, core competencies, or next-generation learning. Why are so many jurisdictions including competencies in their revised curricula?

The major shifts occurring within curriculum reform have been promoted through discussion by global education leaders as an effort to prepare students for the complex challenges that society is facing and will continue to grapple with in the future. It is now widely accepted that students will require a new set of skills in order to meet the unprecedented pace of social, ecological, economic and technological change. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a 36 country membership committed to promoting democracy, market economies, and world trade, called upon international governments to make an effort to properly identify and conceptualize a set of competency skills to be incorporated within educational standards. Considerable research has been conducted in an effort to define these competency skills. While some variation exists from one country or jurisdiction to another, researchers appear to be in general agreement that global competencies fall within three broad domains: cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (see Figure 1).


Figure 1 — 21st Century Skills Grouped into Three Broad Domains

Cognitive competencies include various forms of thinking and creativity. Interpersonal competencies are those skills required to effectively and equitably engage with others. Intrapersonal skills include all of the attributes associated with confidence and self-efficacy. Within education, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are often referred to as social and emotional learning, or SEL; in the workforce, they are commonly referred to as ‘soft skills’.

Global Competencies within the Canadian Context

Within Canada, the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, CMEC, identified six global competencies to ensure that educational jurisdictions are preparing students for ‘a complex and unpredictable future’. Although different iterations of global competencies exist, such as B.C.’s Core Competencies, Ontario’s 21st Century Competencies, or New Brunswick’s Global Competencies, all provinces and territories have frameworks that intersect the six global competencies as identified by the CMEC:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship
  • learning to learn/self-awareness and self-direction
  • collaboration
  • communication
  • global citizenship and sustainability

While Provinces and Territories are all ‘moving towards’ competency-based approaches,  variation exists from one jurisdiction to another. Given the differences between the thirteen distinct provinces and territories, this is not surprising. Factors of variation seem to be related to whether or not:

  • competencies are included at every grade level
  • competencies are included within each subject area,
  • assessment and evaluation criteria are integrated within the competency framework

BC Core Competencies

BC’s new curriculum is highly respected for not only identifying a set of core competencies that apply to all learners K-12 grades, but also for ensuring that the core competencies are reflected within assessment and reporting practices. The B.C. ‘Core Competencies’ are described as a set of intellectual, personal, social and emotional proficiencies that all students need in order to support life-long learning. The Core Competencies are recognized as the ‘doing’ component of B.C.’s new curriculum. Paired with learning outcomes described as ‘Curricular Competencies’, the teaching of the core competencies, when paired with learning outcomes (now referred to as Curricular Competencies) are intended to engage students in meaningful learning tasks. The following link offers further reading:

Successful Learner Traits — An Aligned Competency-Based Framework

With the emergence of the BC core competencies, teachers continue to be drawn to Successful Learner Traits as an aligned framework. Why is this so? The Successful Learner Traits were identified through a broad-based teacher survey over a decade ago and are now used in many BC classrooms. With the inclusion of competencies within revised curricula, BC teachers who were already using the Successful Learner Trait Framework recognized the alignment between the SLT’s and BC core competencies. See Figure 2. Currently, those educators seeking an accessible means of teaching core competencies to their students readily adopt the SLT Framework for a number of reasons:

  1. Language – The language used to describe each trait is accessible, meaningful, and naturally connects to learning and learning styles within the context of school as well as beyond;
  2. Engagement – The use of inviting imagery, for each of the learning traits, builds connection and conceptual understanding;
  3. Pedagogical Practice – The Successful Learner Trait Framework is central to all learning, implemented through formative assessment strategies, and embedded within all learning, assessment and reporting (communicating student learning).
  4. Gradual Release of Responsibility, Differentiation and Student Efficacy – The Successful Learner Trait Framework is based on a practice that explicitly teaches students ‘how to apply themselves’ via the learning traits. In this way, all students in a classroom, benefit from the time taken to identify, apply, and reflect on the specific attributes of a Trait that apply within a given learning activity. Teachers who adopt this practice recognize what a positive difference it makes for their students and report greater student engagement, independence, and growth mindsets.
  5. Resources and Support – The self-assessment tools and resources offered at the school and individual level are a key factor in supporting learning success for students. Professional development workshops (linked to your workshop pages) and demonstration lessons based on building collaborative teams move schools forward with positive results.

Figure 2 — Successful Learner Traits and BC Core Competencies

Figure 2 — Successful Learner Traits and BC Core Competencies

In Conclusion

The inclusion of BC Core Competencies, or 21st Century Skills, within curricula offer educators an opportunity to think very differently about what counts and is relevant in education today. Competency-based education offers a much-needed means of balancing a content driven curricula with one that attends to the academic subjects, as well as social and emotional learning and the development of capacity and resilience. With the inclusion of competencies, the learning experiences of students are becoming significantly different; students now spend more time engaged in ‘doing’ as they apply their learning in ways that are challenging, meaningful, and collaborative in nature. Research also suggests that students’ overall competency in cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal domains is associated with an overall increase in school success (Farrington et al, 2012).


Ananiadou, K., & Claro, M. (2009). 21st century skills and competences for new millennium learners in OECD countries. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 41. Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from

British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2017a). Core competencies: Building student success — BC’s new curriculum. Retrieved from

Canadians for 21st Century Learning and Innovation (C21 Canada). (2012). C21 presents: Shifting minds. Retrieved from Canada-Shifting_Minds.pdf

Care, E., Kim, H., Vista, A., and Anderson, K,. (2018). Education for System Alignment for 21st Century Skills, Focus on Assessment. Washington, DC: Brooking Institution. Retrieved from

Christensen, N., & Lane, J. (2016).  Know-Do-Understand: Development of Competencies in Canada’s Schoolchildren, Canada West Foundation. Retrieved from

Farrington, C. A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T. S., Johnson, D. W., & Beechum, N. O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

Fullan, M, McEachen, J , & Quinn, J (2016) New pedagogies for deep learning: NPDL global report (1st ed ) Ontario, Canada: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. Retrieved from

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2005). Definition and selection of key competencies: Executive summary. Paris, France. 

OECD (2016). Global competency for an inclusive world, OECD Publishing.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). 21ST Century Competencies: Phase 1— Towards defining 21st century competencies for Ontario. Retrieved from

Pellegrino, J.W., & Hilton, M.L. (Eds.). (2012). National Research Council. Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://