Cory Leonard

The Non-Cognitive Voodoo that You Do

In career on December 5, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Got skills? Yes, but what about the other kind? (The kinds that the OECD emphasizes as a critical set of skills for primary and secondary schools.)


Sometimes called “soft” skills, character skills, or social and emotional skills, non-cognitive skills include traits like motivation, sociability, empathy, attention, self-esteem, and self-regulation. These skills have traditionally been undervalued, but there is hard evidence that they are more critical to a person’s success in life than almost anything else.

There are also broader benefits of non-cognitive skills to society at large, including less crime, better health, higher civic engagement, higher employment, and a generally more trusting, inclusive society.

So how do we translate all of these studies demonstrating the importance of non-cognitive skills into education practice?

According to Heckman, mentoring, family engagement, and personalized education are critical because skill formation is dynamic — in other words, skills beget skills. Therefore, it’s important to promote policies that help develop non-cognitive skills. This begins with early childhood education and interventions, but it continues throughout a child’s education into adulthood, with work-based apprenticeship programs that build attachment, interaction, and trust.

“We need a much more comprehensive notion of what education means today — the key is attachment, engagement, and a deeper understanding of mentoring and learning. It also means when we measure education, we have to go beyond academic measures and measure non-cognitive skills. Start early, go broadly, and go far beyond school,” Heckman said.

Via Asia Society | ‘Start Early, Go Broadly, and Go Far Beyond School

The “Big Five” key personality skills of conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness, and extraversion are part of the “Rosetta Stone”–according to Richard D. Roberts, Jonathan E. Martin, and Gabriel Olaru. These factors are well-researched, beginning with Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961 and being more well-known by academic researchers in the 1980s.

The extent to which someone is open, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable and neurotic determines success in life just as much as (and in some cases, notably thick men who wish to avoid jail, more than) their academic ability. It is not enough to be smart, you must be tenacious as well.

via The Economist | Blighty – “Not just smart but persistent as well

This idea has been widely reinvigorated by educators and popularized by David Brooks in The Social Animal.




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