21st century skills in technical education

TW1ST education stands for twenty first century skills in technical education. It is a NWO, NRO financed project. The main goal of the project is to develop and study means that will aid education of 21st century skills in technical vocational education.

Summary of the research

There is a growing need in our society for highly qualified vocational technicians who not only possess traditional professional skills, but also are able to be reflective and to work in teams on complex problems. The current project focuses on the acquisition of these additional '21st century' skills for students in secondary vocational technical education, more specifically:

  1. reasoning skills (e.g., critical thinking),
  2. interpersonal skills (e.g., collaboration and communication),
  3. intrapersonal skills (e.g., planning and reflection).

Students will acquire these skills in the context of engaging in learning with virtual science laboratories, and they will be supported in acquiring these skills by a set of dedicated, technology-based, cognitive tools.


  1. Understand the process of how 21st century skills are acquired and to develop and evaluate a set of dedicated digital aids to support students gaining these skills.
  2. Develop learning analytics techniques that will be used to inform both students and teachers about relevant aspects of the learning and collaboration processes involved.
  3. Prepare teachers for an active role (supported by technology) in guiding students to acquire the needed 21st century skills.


The TWIST project contains three strands that work together to accomplish the aforementioned goals: the teacher strand, the student strand, and the learning analytics strand. Each strand has a specific focus within the TWIST education project.

Student strand

In this strand we will develop and evaluate a set of cognitive tools that aim to trigger and support the development of 21st century skills by students. The 21st century skills that are the focal point of this project are based on the three skills categories distinguished by the onderwijsraad 2014: reasoning skills, interpersonal skills and intrapersonal skills, more specifically critical thinking, collaboration and communication, and planning and reflection.

Expected output: virtual labs and learning environments, and cognitive tools 

Learning analytics strand

Learning analytics is “the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs”*  In the TWIST education project learning analytics output mainly serves reflection: The student data will be used to inform the teachers and have them reflect on the learning activities and structure their intervention based on this information, and the student data will be used to inform students about their progress and have them reflect on this.

Thus, one of the main aims of the learning analytic strand is to create a dashboard. The goal of the dashboard is to enable teachers to effectively scaffold 'acquisition of 21st skills by providing them with flexible tools to diagnose students’ learning, thereby helping them to adjust their support and instruction.

Expected output: teacher dashboard

teacher strand

The teacher strand focuses on equipping teachers to perform “interventions” in addition to the cognitive tools. The teacher strand focusses on teaching teachers how to discuss 21st century skills with their students. Therefore teacher-training trajectories will be designed. These will focus on training teachers to scaffold students’ use of 21st skills (e.g., in the form of a structured class discussion) during learning from virtual labs, using a dashboard as a diagnostic means. These trajectories will be presented in a set of teacher workshops.

Expected output: teacher workshops

*Ferguson, Rebecca. "Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges." International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning 4.5-6 (2012): 304-317.