Knowledge and Skills

Is it possible to learn how to drive by sitting in a classroom? What about how to fly a plane? Can you learn how to paint by listening to someone explain it? The answer for all of these is the same: only partially. There are aspects to these three activities that you learn through classroom experience, but other aspects that you can only learn from hands-on practice. That’s because there is a fundamental difference between knowledge and skills, which is crucial for someone to understand who wants to impact the training or education of a workforce.

What’s Knowledge?

Knowledge consists of concepts, principles, and mental processes committed to memory. We gain knowledge through education. Think about when you were in school. In the traditional model, the teacher gives you information and ideas that you need to memorize. Then, the school uses quizzes or exams to make sure that you have retained everything that was taught to you. Really, we don’t learn many skills through school. We mostly gain knowledge.

What are Skills?

Skills, simply put, are how to do things. In fact, they always start with “how to.” The three examples given at the beginning—how to drive a car, how to fly a plane, and how to paint a picture —are all skills.  They are job related tasks that include a physical component. Unlike knowledge, skills cannot be mastered in a classroom. They can only be completely learned through training, which consists of actually practicing the skill hands-on.

All Skills Have Knowledge-Based Components

It’s easy for the water to get clouded on the difference between knowledge and skills. In part because all skills have certain knowledge components that people must learn in order to properly master the skill. Take playing the guitar. It’s essential (or at least really helps) to know the notes on all six strings, what notes are in a key, and what the frets up and down the neck are for. That’s all knowledge related to how to play the guitar. However, how to play a chord, learn an entire song, or even just how to tune the guitar are all physical tasks. They’re skills that take hands-on practice along with a little bit of knowledge.

What’s the Point?

It seems like we’re splitting hairs, but the difference between knowledge and skills is important for all trainers and educators. Building an effective job curriculum starts with separating the knowledge components from the skill components of a job. A program aimed at developing safe professional drivers has to educate drivers on traffic laws, company policies, and the mission, vision, and values of the company. It also has to train drivers on how to leave proper following distance, see around blind spots before making a turn, and do a proper pre-trip inspection. A job training curriculum would be disorganized and thus inefficient without separating knowledge and skills. We’d be left with fleets of ill-prepared drivers.