Learning & Development

Skills: The Language of Knowledge

By Ryan M. Frischmann
Helping employees learn new skills is the goal of training programs everywhere and with good reason—skills are essentially the language of knowledge itself. With more on skill-based learning, we present an article by Ryan M. Frischmann, author of A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career.

It’s important to understand how skills are the language for talking about learning because 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, and play.
Skills are the foundation of learning and more broadly intersect 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 off the Internet and spend 10 minutes. You could hack your way through creating one quickly and spend 30 minutes. Or you could learn the skill of using Adobe Photoshop by watching a few tutorials and practicing methods and spend up to 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 you might 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 of 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 (software development) 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 massive open online course (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.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, Frischmann tackles the big question in skills training, How long does it take to learn a skill?

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