Skill Is the ‘Verb’ in Knowledge

I was asked to do a webinar on Skills-Based Approach and how it applies to learning and job training. A few years ago, I came up with a methodology called Skills Based Approach and ever since I have been working on its application; this year I have been laser focused on its application because of its value in education, higher education, and career development.

For the webinar, on one hand I want to demonstrate how the application works and on the other hand convince an audience skills should be used to describe learning and job training expectations. You need to see the value in ‘speaking in skills’, before truly adopting the application; but once you do, Skills Based Approach simplifies everything.

I champion the use of skills. I say you must consider how you apply skills in all of your experiences (one aspect of a Skills Culture to learning). As a prelude to the upcoming webinar, I thought I would write a short article on how skills are the language for talking about learning. Skills describe learning laterally across subjects and disciplines and vertically across career stages.

Looking up the definition of knowledge in Google returns the following: skills and facts and information acquired through experiences; a practical understanding of a subject matter.

Let’s concentrate on the first clause and the last word: experiences. We learn through experiences; this is where we apply skills and practice their underlying methods and applications. Experiences happen all the time. There are no constraints. Skills define how we think, converse, listen, write, solve problems, debate, create, design, engineer, play, and etc.

Skills are the foundation of learning and more broadly intersects all aspects of life. In all circumstances there is an opportunity to apply skills. Here are some examples:

Say you are asked to create a graphic for a website and you have no graphic design experience. To get the graphic, you might: rip or buy a stock graphic of the internet and spend 10 minutes, hack your way through creating one quickly and spend 30 minutes, or learn the skill of using Adobe Photoshop by watching a few tutorials and practicing methods and spend 3 to 5 hours. If you choose the last option, you produce something authentic, might discover interest in a particular technical skill (graphic design), and build transferrable skills (‘attention to detail’ and ‘following instructions’).

Say you are asked to take the lead on an upcoming project. You can respond by simply accepting the project and essentially ‘do your best’ or proactively take the time to learn the required skills: project management, teamwork, verbal presentation, supervision and leadership. There also might be a project management technology. For example, if the project is a web application, you purchase a book on SCRUM and apply that skill too. Taking the investment in building the skills increases the chance of success, which means being asked for future lead positions.

Say you designed and created an application and are asked to pitch it to a potential client. You could go to the meeting and try to make the deal based on your personality. You could also spend time learning the skills behind sales: negotiation, persuasion, and presenting. Take a MOOC, watch a YouTube video, or buy a book on the art of negotiation. The investment pays off by increasing your chances of success at the pitch and gives you some skill expertise to continue building on in the future.

Some experts have attempted to answer the question: How long it takes to learn a skill? The biggest factor is a desired level of expertise with the skill. Do you want to become a master? One properly referenced article says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill , which translates to about 9 years (consider 5 days a week, spending 4 hours a day). Another article says it can take 6 months or more to develop a new skill. Do you need it for a particular project? Do you want to explore a personal interest? One article says it can take 20 hours to learn a skill “to perform well enough for your own purposes”.

Think this 20 hours threshold for acquiring skills fits well with a Skills Culture. Students and professionals are motivated to learn skills. They are not hampered by preconceived talents or a feeling they must master skills to be successful. Josh Kaufman sums this up well: “The idea of ‘mastering’ a skill when you’re just getting started is counterproductive: it can be a significant barrier to exploring a new skill in the first place.”

Skills act as the ‘verb’ in knowledge; it is the action part of knowledge. Arguably, this becomes the biggest factor because we are already seeing technology augmenting our ability to retrieve facts and information.

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