The relation between 21st-century skills and digital skills: A systematic literature review

Ester van Laar* (Corresponding Author), Alexander J.A.M. van Deursen, Jan A.G.M. van Dijk, Jos de Haan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

966 Citations (Scopus)
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Innovation starts with people, making the human capital within the workforce decisive. In a fast-changing knowledge economy, 21st-century digital skills drive organizations' competitiveness and innovation capacity. Although such skills are seen as crucial, the digital aspect integrated with 21st-century skills is not yet sufficiently defined. The main objectives of this study were to (1) examine the relation between 21st-century skills and digital skills; and (2) provide a framework of 21st-century digital skills with conceptual dimensions and key operational components aimed at the knowledge worker. A systematic literature review was conducted to synthesize the relevant academic literature concerned with 21st-century digital skills. In total, 1592 different articles were screened from which 75 articles met the predefined inclusion criteria. The results show that 21st-century skills are broader than digital skills – the list of mentioned skills is far more extensive. In addition, in contrast to digital skills, 21st-century skills are not necessarily underpinned by ICT. Furthermore, we identified seven core skills: technical, information management, communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving. Five contextual skills were also identified: ethical awareness, cultural awareness, flexibility, self-direction and lifelong learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-588
JournalComputers in human behavior
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • 21st-century skills
  • Digital skills
  • Digital literacy
  • Labor
  • Systematic literature review
  • 2023 OA procedure


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