Staying the Course…

Skill-Based Learning

I’ve read several recent articles and trend reports talking about a renewed focus on skills as the basis for hiring and learning, and I couldn’t be happier. Innovative Learning Group was founded on the idea that skills can be improved through learning and performance support solutions for workers, leading to higher performance and organizational results.

After 35 years of successfully shaping skills into performance, I’ve never felt the need to veer from this path. So, for those who did, welcome back! And, for those of us who stayed the course all these years, congratulations!

As the Josh Bersin Company points out (Welcome to the Post-Industrial Age – 2023), skills and workers are scarce in what is coined the “post-industrial age.” As such, a work-centric model should guide our thinking going forward using the skills of the person versus the job-centric approach of the industrial age. I see similar thinking in the Harvard Business Review article “Skills-Based Hiring is on the Rise” (February 11, 2022). If you look around you, I’m sure you can find a dozen more examples where skills are back in the limelight.

What’s Old Is New Again

Throughout my career, both of my go-to professional organizations, the International Society for Performance Improvement and the Association for Talent Development have been focused on skills, which we can also call competencies. After all, competencies are essentially clusters of related skills. (Note: Real nerds can trace the root of competencies back to 1971, when the idea of “dimensions” was pioneered by William Byham — one of the giants in social science research.)

Even prior to that, the basis of instructional design theories is rooted in WWII and the work of behavioral science researcher B.F. Skinner. The U.S. military wanted soldiers to get extensive training on their many complex tasks. Using Skinner’s approach, military instructors learned to break tasks down and teach the knowledge and skills needed to perform the tasks.

The well-known instructional systems design model, ADDIE, developed circa 1975 at Florida State University, uses skills as the key element in the initial analysis phase in an attempt to identify the gap between existing and desired knowledge and skills.

And finally, the impact map introduced by Dr. Robert O. Brinkerhoff uses skills to describe the line of sight from business goals to the specific skills and knowledge needed to achieve them. The impact map is an essential tool in the preparation of learning and evaluation efforts by showing the linkages among goals, desired results, critical tasks, and key skills/knowledge needed to generate organizational outcomes.

Skills Today

Given the long history of skill-based training, you might ask, “What’s new or different then?” Actually, it looks like the skills people need today are changing more so than the renewed focus upon them. Gartner not only estimates that the number of skills needed for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year but also that more than 30% of the skills needed three years ago will soon be irrelevant (Udemy Business 2024 Global Learning & Skills Trends Report).

One thing is clear to me… our curriculums need to be refreshed more often than they were in the past. I don’t think most businesses can survive this degree of change without updating training materials at least annually. More skills plus more change equals a whole lot more work for the learning function. It’s better to get out in front of that increased workload as you’re planning for the coming year.

Fortunately, we can still use our tried-and-true skills-based approach updated with the latest learning technology and delivery options . We’ve been here before, and we know what to do. Let’s keep focusing on skills!

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