Thought Leaders Circle – ‘The Art of Being Skilful’

1st June 2023

Posted by Learnovate

The latest meeting of Learnovate’s Thought Leaders Circle focused on the topic of skills and the role Learning and Development (L&D) solutions can play in equipping workers with the skills they need in the modern workplace.

The meeting kicked off with a ‘fireside chat’ between Nigel Paine (the current chair of the Thought Leaders Circle) and Bob Mosher from Apply Synergies around the topic of ‘The Art of Being Skilful’. Nigel and Bob are hugely respected figures in the world of L&D – Nigel has written extensively on the subject of Workplace Learning, while Bob has pioneered the ‘5 Moments of Need’ approach to learning design.

Nigel began their chat by asking Bob to explain what he meant exactly by the term ‘skilful’. In response, Bob stressed the importance of clear definitions and drew a distinction between being ‘skilled’ and being ‘skilful’. In Bob’s opinion, ‘skilled’ is a point of mastery whereas ‘skilful’ implies an ability to repeatedly apply a skill while at the same time (and this is crucial) being able to constantly hone that skill as the environment in which you are using it changes.

This goes to the core of what learning science tells us about learning design – imparting a skill has to be done in a way that both responds to the specific needs of the learner at that moment in time (the concept of Workflow Learning) while also ensuring the learning is presented in a way that the learner can directly relate to (the notion of Authentic Learning). 

Re-enforcing this point, Bob explained that while content gives the learner a deep understanding of a skill, it’s context in which that learning is delivered that renders the learner skilful by ensuring they can apply that skill in their workday. Thus, in order to be ‘skilful’ you first need to be ‘skilled’; and Bob insisted that plotting the journey from ‘skilled’ to ‘skilful’ should be a key aim of not just those in L&D, but also those working in education.  In Bob’s experience, the authentic practice of trial and error is still one of the principal ways of learning for most people in the organisations with whom he works. Furthermore, Learnovate’s Academic Director Ann Devitt made the important point that providing feedback following authentic learning and practice is a key tool in transforming ‘skilled’ learners into ‘skilful’ learners.

One of Learnovate’s members, Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI), offers a perfect example of how to apply the principles discussed by Nigel and Bob. CAI have completely overhauled their learning programme to embed the training of transversal skills (such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) into their accountancy training programme in response to the changing needs of their clients. The CAI delivers these skills not as standalone modules, but as concepts seamlessly integrated into the core learning programme. 

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