Building a Successful Training Program: Knowledge vs. Skills

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Knowledge Vs Skills

One of the first steps to creating a successful training program is coming up with the outcomes you’d like those who go through the program to achieve. That is, once someone goes through the program, what should they be able to do or understand? In figuring out these outcomes, you also need to decide which outcomes pertain to knowledge and which pertain to skill. While knowledge and skill go hand-in-hand, they are not the same thing. A person can have all the knowledge necessary to play basketball.  They can know the rules, the plays, the history, and the tips and tricks, but that doesn’t mean they have the skills to be a good basketball player.

It’s very important to understand the difference between knowledge and skill because we learn knowledge and skills differently. Once you understand the difference, you can categorize your outcomes into each group and more effectively build out how to achieve each outcome.

At Avatar, once we decide what the outcomes are, we sort which outcomes belong under the knowledge category and which belong under the skill category. Below is a breakdown of how we define both knowledge and skill as well as how we break each down into different levels of learning.

What is Knowledge

Knowledge can be defined as concepts and principles committed to memory. Knowledge learning can be supported by a variety of media, strategies or events.

There are five levels of knowledge learning as demonstrated in this chart. Each is defined below from the student’s perspective.


  • Awareness: Also known as receptivity. There is a new subject to master. It is important to me and I will benefit from spending energy on learning it. It is worth my while to pay close attention.
  • Literacy: I am beginning to become familiar with the terms being used and can ask a simple, yet meaningful question.
  • Conceptual: I know the definitions of many of the terms, objects and processes, but do not comprehend how they fit together to create meaning.
  • Understanding: I comprehend how the various elements fit together to create meaning. I can form accurate sentences describing all of the processes and all of the relationships associated with this subject. I know how it works and I can explain it to others.
  • Abstraction: I am forming new thoughts and ideas that reach beyond the original subject matter. I am able to create new concepts, principles, formulas and processes that build upon the original subject.

Avatar’s approach to instructional design begins with the organization of the necessary principles, concepts and mental processes into a meaningful structure. Then, we divide the knowledge into two categories: that which should be committed to memory (learned) and that which is best suited for reference. Next, we identify the most cost-effective delivery platforms that will achieve the desired learning outcomes. Typically, a blended approach is preferred.

What are Skills

Skills are defined as “how to do things,” and people learn skills through training. Skills can only be mastered through experiential learning as described in Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. There are five levels of learning a skill as demonstrated in this chart. Each is defined below, from the student’s perspective. Most training curricula are devised to achieve third level (cognitive performance) learning.


  • Awareness: Also known as receptivity. There is a new skill to master. It is important to me and I will benefit from spending energy on learning it. It is worth my while to pay close attention.
  • Initial Modeling: I am able to carefully watch someone else perform the skill (usually broken down into its various steps and described to me as they proceed) and then I can slowly copy their behavior. At first, I fumble through it and make some mistakes, but my instructor provides guidance and encouragement.
  • Cognitive Performance: I am able to perform the skill without assistance, but I must give it my undivided attention.
  • Enactive Mastery: I am able to consistently perform the skill without error. I can do it with very little direct attention. I can occasionally perform other tasks at the same time such as talking or looking around.
  • Automaticity: I can consistently and correctly perform the skill without any conscious thought or attention. I usually turn my attention to other matters while performing the skill. It is performed at the meta-cognitive level.

Avatar’s approach to instructional design is built on Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and features verbal persuasion, modeling and enactive mastery (experiential learning).

Make the Distinction for Training Success

The information above is a brief peak into how Avatar approaches creating a training program. Deciding the outcomes of your training program and sorting out which outcomes are knowledge based and which are skill based is the first step to creating a successful training program. Understanding the level of knowledge and skill you’d like your participants to attain will also contribute to the success of your program.