January 27, 2023

Fostering the Six Cs of Learning in the Digital Age Through Future-Focused Learning Experiences

Note: This content is produced from sessions presented in Anthology’s Winter 2022 Digital Teaching Symposium.

Abraham Lincoln famously remarked, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Today’s educators carry an immense responsibility — preparing their students for the future. In an ever-changing world, the future seems increasingly unpredictable, and this responsibility may seem like more of a burden than an opportunity. Yet, through purposeful future-focused planning and implementation, the work of preparing learners for the future becomes an incredible adventure. Future-focused instructional design transitions students from consumers of information to creators of exciting new learning experiences.

Today’s educational endeavors cannot resemble educational experiences of the past, as our current digital world — and the world of the future — surges with innovative and impactful new technological developments. In this world, professional contexts rapidly change as digital innovations come to be, necessitating a consistent re-skilling of workers.

The concept of future-focused teaching and learning is overviewed in relation to technology integration in Collegial Coaching: Mentoring for Knowledge and Skills That Transfer to Real-World Applications[1]; however, this paradigm ultimately applies to countless learning endeavors:

Today’s educators must remain mindful of the fact that they are preparing learners for jobs that might not even exist at this point. According to a report published by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (2018), 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet. Although teachers in today’s classrooms might not be able to predict what types of professions their students will pursue in the future, they can help them develop the skills they will need to successfully encounter any job opportunity—even those that have not yet been invented! Teachers in today’s world are charged with the task of helping students dive into the DEEP end of learning experiences, supporting them as they discover, engage, experiment, and produce.[1]

This means that assessment measures and corresponding learning activities must be dramatically different than those of the past. Instead of relying exclusively on traditional methods to gauge learning such as quizzes and exams, today’s educational experiences should reflect future-focused skills that students will ultimately need for professional and personal success.

Capitalizing on the Six Cs

Within their white paper overviewing innovative instructional strategies for meaningful learning, Fullan and Scott[2] present the idea of the Six Cs of learning within today’s digital age:

  • Character: Qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world, including grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty
  • Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with a genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability
  • Collaboration: The capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decisions together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others
  • Communication: Mastery of three fluencies: digital, writing, and speaking tailored for a range of audiences
  • Creativity: Having an "entrepreneurial eye" for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice
  • Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge, and applying it in the real world

It may seem preposterous to imagine that 85% of the jobs that will exist by 2030 had not yet been conceived of in 2018. Yet, this idea becomes more comprehensible when considering the number of professional opportunities in existence today that did not exist even 10 to 20 years ago. If a group of individuals was asked to name examples of lucrative occupations not invented one to two decades ago, opportunities such as the following might be mentioned:

  • Social media manager
  • Cryptocurrency expert 
  • Digital marketing specialist 
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) specialist 
  • App developer 
  • Career coach 
  • Cloud computing specialist 
  • College admissions consultant 
  • Online shop (Etsy, Poshmark, etc.) owner 
  • Social media influencer 

What do these jobs have in common? Beyond their fairly recent advent, those who achieve the greatest success in these professions demonstrate exceptional skill in many, if not all, of the Six Cs of learning in the digital age.

The Formula for Authentic Learning

As educators plan and implement learning opportunities that are applicable and authentic, students benefit in ways that transfer far beyond their time in school. In fact, intrinsic motivation for learning is strongest when students clearly see how their learning will advance them in the real world.

A formula for applicable, authentic learning is shared in Collegial Coaching: Mentoring for Knowledge and Skills That Transfer to Real-World Applications[1]; this formula involves purposeful planning grounded in explicit applicability:

[Teachers] do this by offering [students] real-world problems to solve, giving them opportunities to present solutions to various audiences, and designing assessment endeavors that apply to the everyday lives of learners. This method is summed up in an innovative formula for meaningful learning: authentic issues + authentic audiences + authentic assessment = authentic learning experiences.   

Examples of Authentic Learning in Action

Adults engage in countless decision-making endeavors every day of their lives. Along the way, they discover important solutions to problems. Unfortunately, because of a frequent lack of exposure to meaningful problem-solving opportunities, today’s students may struggle to autonomously find solutions to real-life issues. Therefore, engagement with authentic issues plays an important role in the formula for authentic learning.

In addition to the opportunity to solve real-world problems, learners achieve greater levels of success when they know that their deliverables will be viewed by audiences beyond the teacher. With the knowledge that the products they create will reach vaster audiences, their intrinsic motivation to learn soars. In such cases, they more naturally pour their hearts and souls into designing impactful artifacts of learning as they progress with an intended audience in mind.

Authentic assessment, the final component of the formula for authentic learning, ties the first two components together into a complete package. As discussed in Collegial Coaching: Mentoring for Knowledge and Skills That Transfer to Real-World Applications[1]

[Authentic assessments] provide a revealing glimpse of what learners actually know and what they can actually do, rather than simply showcasing how skillfully students can take quizzes or exams. Authentic assessments provide opportunities for learners to create novel end products, rather than simply requiring that they consume information for the purpose of regurgitating it while taking a quiz or exam.

In fact, within the Master of Science in Learning, Technology, and Design program at Houston Christian University, none of the courses include a single quiz or exam. Instead, each course was designed to include authentic assessment experiences that allow current and future instructional designers to solve real-life instructional design issues, present to actual audiences, and deliver authentic artifacts of learning. Throughout every course, students create deliverables evidencing their grasp of crucial student learning outcomes. Learners within the program design innovative, future-focused digital tools and educational resources to support them and others in achieving goals within their current or intended future professional settings.

The instructional design students in the program thoughtfully plan and execute assessment endeavors, intrinsically driven by the knowledge that the skills gained will ultimately impact the educators and learners they serve (or will someday serve). Resultantly, final submissions showcase exemplary instructional design work, and students are often eager to share their professional portfolios with others. In fact, graduates typically include a portfolio link within the signature of their email; they also place a QR code in their résumé directing potential employers to their portfolios. Many students in the program have acquired professional awards, new job opportunities, or promotions on the basis of their stellar online portfolios. 

This online portfolio, created by program graduate Julie Blackwell, is an example of the impact of meaningful opportunities to address authentic issues, present to authentic audiences, and engage in authentic assessment endeavors.

Course evaluations suggest that students genuinely appreciate the opportunity to engage in applicable learning experiences:

  • “This course was wonderful … I found the coursework both engaging and challenging, and I especially enjoyed that the materials created within this course could be used within my own teaching career. It never felt like completing work for the sake of completing work…”
  • “I enjoyed that this class had direct application within our work or teaching environment. I was able to use what I created in this class directly within my own teaching and reflect on it in practice, which I really enjoyed…”
  • “I felt that I learned many valuable skills and produced artifacts that I was proud to include in my digital portfolio. I always appreciate the ways in which [our professor] always makes her assignments directly applicable to the work we all do outside of the course…”

There is no better time than now to begin preparing students for the future. As author C.S. Lewis famously said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” For students engaged in future-focused learning experiences, this is certainly the case.


[1]Alaniz, K. (2021). Collegial Coaching: Mentoring for Knowledge and Skills that Transfer to Real World Applications. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

[2]Fullan, M., & Scott, G. (2014). New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Whitepaper: Education PLUS. Seattle, WA: Collaborative Impact SPC.

Katie Alaniz

Katie Alaniz, Ed.D.

Director of Center for Learning Innovations and Teaching Excellence and Associate Professor of Education
Houston Christian University

Katie Alaniz, Ed.D., teaches at Houston Christian University, where she also serves as director of the Center for Learning Innovations and Teaching Excellence (C-LITE). As a teacher and digital learning specialist for over a decade in public and private schools, including her service at River Oaks Baptist School, she supports educators in meaningfully integrating digital tools for learning. She has authored/coauthored Naturalizing Digital Immigrants: The Power of Collegial Coaching for Technology Integration; Digital Media in Today's Classrooms; Collegial Coaching: Mentoring for Knowledge and Skills That Transfer to Real-World Applications; The Maximizer Mindset; and Authentic Assessment in Action (2023).