Cognitive, Intrapersonal, and Interpersonal Competencies

The National Academies of Sciences defines 21st Century Literacies as an amalgam of three interdependent competencies: cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal:

  1. “Cognitive competencies involve thinking, reasoning, and related skills.
  2.  Intrapersonal competencies involve self-management and the ability to regulate one’s behavior and emotions to reach goals.
  3. Interpersonal competencies involve expressing information to others.” (Education for Life and Work 2012)

Education for Life and Work represents a major effort on the part of STEM scientists, cognitive-development theorists, and learning theorists to develop a competency-based model of 21st Century literacies.

Education for Life and Work was researched and written by experts from the National Research Council, the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Testing and Assessment; Board on Science Education; Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills. The community of researchers followed publication of Education for Life and Work with numerous additional publications, including Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies in 2017.

This view of 21st Century Literacies assumes that literacy–the ability to read and write–is dependent on a large number of competencies that can be subdivided into three major competencies; cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies.

CognitiveIntrapersonalInterpersonal
Cognitive Processes & Strategies
Knowledge
Creativity & Innovation
Teamwork & Collaboration
Leadership
Intellectual Openness
Work Ethic
Positive Self Evaluation

In its illustration of how these competencies interrelate with one another, The National Academies of Sciences posits some competencies tend to co-cluster. In other words, subcomptencies gather together to form larger clusters of competencies. For instance, for the intrapersonal domain the Academy suggests there are two clusters of competencies: Teamwork & Collaboration/Leadership.

Also in the illustration below, note that the Academy presumes these competencies all interact with one another. No competencies are solely mutually exclusive. Instead, these competencies are presented as interwoven. Competencies are interdependent. For example, note that the Academy places reasoning/argumentation and collaboration at the center of cognitive and interpersonal competencies.

Why are Intrapersonal & Interpersonal Competencies Important?

Traditionally, schools have been chiefly concerned with measuring students’ cognitive abilities (e.g., ability to recall knowledge over time and reason logically). In the U.S., educational policies such the No Child Left Behind Act focus primarily on cognitive competencies. College-entrance exams like the SAT and graduate-entrance exams like the GRE also primarily assess knowledge and cognitive reasoning. Often school grades are designed to assess cognitive performance on individual tasks.

Recently some assessments of U.S. students’ reading and math skills have found that U.S. students are doing poorly in comparison to their counterparts at other nations. The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is a test of 15 year old’s reading, science, and math skills. In 2015 the US ranked 18th out of 34 participating countries in adult literacy rates, and in another study of adult literacies, the US ranked 29th out of 30 schools in its reading abilities, sentence processing, and comprehension, and vocabulary (OECD, 2015). At the post-college level, millennials (i.e., 1980+) with the highest educational attainment rates scored lower on literacy competencies than similarly educated millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries on the PIAAC (Coley et al., 2015). Disconcertingly, only 24% of graduating college students scored at proficient levels for writing (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). And at the high school level, 40% of high school students who took the ACT in 2016 lacked the writing proficiency to complete a college-level writing class and 57% of SAT takers also did not qualify as college ready (College Board, 2013; NAEP, 2016).

As a consequence of these findings the U.S. government’s National Science Foundation and Department of Education is interested in better understanding how intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies are developed and how those skills relate to cognitive competencies and success in school settings.

In 2012 the National Research Council partnered with leaders from the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Testing and Assessment; Board on Science Education; Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills to publish Education for Life. After conducting an exhaustive review of learning theory these scientists posited that 21st Century Literacies are an amalgam of three interdependent competencies: cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.

Source: College & Career Career Framework, http://www.cccframework.org/resources.html, 11/20/2019

In Education for Life and Work, the National Research Council concluded cognitive competencies have been found to be only marginally correlated with success in school and work. To put it more prosaically, some people have Mensa-level IQs, yet they can’t get off the couch, can’t click away from Netflix, or would just prefer to be left alone so they can read a book, play music, or do some art work. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Life is short and ideally people have Agency–the power to direct their lives as they wish.

Subsequently in a follow up report to Education for Life and Work, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017 concluded in Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies that

  • Schools give too much emphasis to cognitive competencies.
  • Schools need to focus more on developing students’ intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies because these competencies
  • Intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies are more predictive of success in school and the workplace than cognitive skills
  • Cognitive, Intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies are needed for success in the 21st century workplace.

21st Century Literacies & Writing Commons

Here at Writing Commons, our academic home is Writing Studies, a discipline grounded in the humanities and education rather than STEM. 

Back in the 1980s, writing theorists such as Robert Boice wrote beautifully on the psychology of writing. And we can trace our fascination with the writer’s character, or psyche, to the 1950s, when The Paris Review Interviews of artists was inaugurated. 

Cognitive Competencies 

  • the writer’s ability to think and reason
  • the writer’s appeals to  logos, pathos, ethos, kairos.
  • The writer’s integration of sources to support claims.

Intrapersonal Competencies 

  • the writer’s ability to regulate behavior and emotions to reach goals
  • the writer’s personality, ambition, energy level (a good night’s sleep, health, etc.)
  • the writer’s knowledge of the discipline of Writing Studies (e.g., writing processes, genres, research methods, conventions, and tools)
  • the writer’s disposition toward the writing task–growth or fixed mindset?
  • the writer’s familiarity with the topic, genre or research methods (For instance, is the writer twenty years on the job and writing yet another contamination assessment report, or is she a newbie?)

Interpersonal Competencies 

  • the writer’s ability to collaborate with others (e.g., listen to others; set and meet shared goals; assess the performance of peers)
  • the writer’s ability to work with critique, whether from peers, instructors, or bosses
  • the writer’s openness to the reasoning of others, whether co-authors or the intended audience of the text.

Works Cited

National Research Council. (2012). Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. J.W. Pellegrino and M.L. Hilton (Eds.), Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills, Center for Education, Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.