Is there a difference between knowledge training and skill training?

I have found that some people studying for their TAE40116 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification struggle with understanding the difference between knowledge and skills. In this article I aim to answer the following questions:

  • What is knowledge? And what is skill?
  • What is the difference between knowledge and skill?
  • Why is it important to know the difference?

Where do we start

In the Australian VET system, specific terms have been defined. For example, competency is partly defined as the consistent application of knowledge and skill to the standard of performance required in the workplace.

For the purpose of this article I am focused on three words from the definition of competency: knowledge, skill, and performance.

A primary objective of VET is to help people learn how to perform work tasks and activities. The performance of a work task will require a person to apply knowledge and apply skill.

If people do not currently have the required knowledge or required skills to perform a work task, then VET will deliver training to help people learn the required knowledge and skills. The learning of required knowledge will usually precede the learning of required skills.

The following illustrates the typical training sequence.

After the required knowledge and skills have been learnt, then training can help people to apply their knowledge and skills to perform the work task or activity to the standard required in the workplace.

What is knowledge? What is skill? And what’s the difference?

Knowledge

What is knowledge? Can knowledge be observed?

These sound like philosophical questions. A person’s knowledge or knowledge held inside a person’s brain cannot been seen, per se.

  • Knowledge is intangible.
  • Knowledge can be factual, conceptual, or procedural.
  • Knowledge refers to learning information, principles, and concepts.
  • Knowledge is the theoretical understanding of something.
  • Knowledge refers to theory.

Knowledge learning is the process of acquiring the theory needed before progressing to the next stage of learning.

Skill

What is skill? Can skill be observed?

The performance of a skill can be observed unless it is a cognitive or thinking skill. We can observe a person performing the skill (the process) or we can see what is produced as a result (the product).

  • Skill is about doing or performing.
  • Skill refers to applying theory in practice and getting an outcome or result.
  • Skills are learnt through regular practice or trial and error.

Skill-based learning builds on knowledge by developing practical or ‘hands-on’ ability. People need knowledge and skills to perform a task.

What is the difference between knowledge and skill?

Knowledge and skill

The difference between knowledge and skill can best be explained by an example. What knowledge and skills does a chef need?

  • Before starting to cook, a chef requires the background knowledge about recipes, ingredients, food safety, types of cooking methods, and hazards in the kitchen.
  • A chef also needs to develop skills to perform specific tasks, such as reading recipes, measuring ingredients, mixing ingredients, and grilling, steaming, boiling, frying, baking, roasting, etc.

Having knowledge about something does not make a person skilled in it. And being skilled at something does not mean the person has all the required knowledge to work safely, effectively or independently.

  • A knowledge training session covers the theory.
  • A skill-based training session develops the practical or ‘hands-on’ ability to do something.

Skill and task

The difference between a skill-based and a task-based training session is subtle. Skills are used to perform a task. Both types of training session will involve doing something:

  • A skill-based training session involves a person performing a skill.
  • A task-based training session involves applying knowledge and skill to perform a task.

Learning the difference between knowledge and skill

I ensure that my TAE40116 Students learn the difference between a knowledge training session, a skill-based training session, and a task-based training session. The performance evidence for the TAEDEL401 Plan, organise and deliver group-based learning unit of competency requires three training sessions to be delivered. My TAE40116 Students deliver three consecutive training sessions: a knowledge training session, followed by a skill-based training session, followed by a task-based training session.

The overall objective of the three training sessions is to help a group of people learn to perform a simple work task. This requires the delivery of a training session to help people learn the required knowledge to perform the task, followed by a training session to help people learn a required skill to perform the task. The task-based training session puts together what was learnt in the two previous sessions to perform a task.

A trainer working in the VET sector must be able to deliver training sessions covering knowledge and training sessions covering skills. I believe that a TAE40116 Graduate must know:

  • The difference between knowledge and skill
  • The difference between delivering a knowledge training session and a skill-based training session
  • VET trains people so that they can apply knowledge and skills to perform work tasks.

I have found that many of my TAE40116 Students struggle with how to start planning for the delivery of the three different types of training sessions. I think some people find it unusual to start at the end and work backwards, rather than starting at the beginning and work forward.

The first thing is to clearly describe the objective for the task-based training session and develop a task breakdown.

(By the end of the task-based training session, the learner should be able to …)

The second thing is to clearly describe the objective for the knowledge training session. The task breakdown can be used to identify the relevant knowledge required to perform each step of the task. Also, the Knowledge Evidence can be used to identify the required knowledge.

(By the end of the knowledge training session, the learner should be able to …)

The third thing is to clearly describe the objective for the skill-based training session. The task breakdown can be used to identify the relevant skill required to perform the task. Also, the Foundation Skills can be used to identify the required skill or skills.

(By the end of the skill-based training session, the learner should be able to …)

An example

The following is an example using the ICTICT216 Design and create basic organisational documents unit of competency. Basic organisational documents may include letters, brochures, posters, forms, and procedures.

Step 1. Describe the task

The task of designing and creating basic documents can be considered as having three stages: design document, develop document, and finalise document.

Each stage can be broken down as having three steps. The following flowchart outlines the 9-step process for designing and creating basic documents.

Step 2. Identify the required knowledge and required skills

The following shows how a table can be used to identify the knowledge and skills required for each task step.

Step 3. Write objectives for training sessions

The following are selection of training objectives for the ICTICT216 Design and create basic organisational documents unit of competency.

Training objectives must be written.

Task-based training sessions

By the end of the task-based training sessions, the learner should be able to design, develop and finalise at least five types of documents: letter, brochure, poster, form, and procedure.

Knowledge training sessions

By the end of the knowledge training sessions, the learner should be able to:

  • List three types of questioning techniques
  • List three methods of active listening
  • List five planning and scheduling considerations
  • Describe three document design principles
  • Describe three features of Microsoft Word and how to apply these features when developing a document
  • Describe three features of Microsoft PowerPoint and how to apply these features when developing a document
  • Identify two advantages of using Microsoft Word and two advantages of using Microsoft PowerPoint for developing documents
  • Etc.

Note: There would be several knowledge training sessions. ‘Chunking and sequencing’ of required knowledge would determine the order and timing for each knowledge training session. Also, the characteristics and needs of the individual learners would need to be considered.

Skill-based training sessions

By the end of the skill-based training sessions, the learner should be able to:

  • Clarifies work requirements using questioning and active listening techniques
  • Plan and schedule tasks to achieve outcomes within agreed timeframes
  • Read organisational guidelines and document requirements to determine requirements for document orientation, style, and format
  • Read organisational guidelines and document requirements to select appropriate application software for different types of documents
  • Etc.

Note: There would be several skill-based training sessions. ‘Chunking and sequencing’ of required skills would determine the order and timing for each skill-based training session. Also, the characteristics and needs of the individual learners would need to be considered.

Step 4. Develop training session plans and resources

This step is outside the scope of this article.

Why is it important to know the difference between knowledge and skill-based training?

Active learning

Active learning methods are used to engage and actively involve learners in the learning process. I promote the idea that at least 50% of the available training time should be allocated for activity. I emphasis ‘at least’, therefore 60%, 75%, or 90% of the training time could be used for activities.

Learning activities

Learning activities can be done by the individual learner, by working in pairs, or by working in small groups. Types of learning activities include:

  • Perform the work task or activity
  • Project
  • Role play
  • Case study
  • Skills practice
  • Research assignment
  • Discussion
  • Answer questions
  • Presentations
  • Quiz.

The following shows the application for different types of learning activities.

Note: All vocational education and training must include the performance of the work task or activity.

Structure of a training session

Finally, and importantly, the structure of a knowledge training session will be different to the structure of a skill-based or task-based training session.

Knowledge training session (EAS)

Skill-based or task-based training session (EDP)

In conclusion

The following diagram show from the learner’s perspective that the knowledge training is followed by skill-based training, followed by task-based training. But the planning process for competency-based training starts with the task, and then works back to the required knowledge and required skill.

Key points

  • A prime objective of VET is about help people learn how to perform work tasks and activities
  • People need knowledge and skills to perform work tasks and activities
  • Knowledge and skills are different.
  • Active learning methods must be used to engage and actively involve the learner in the learning process.
  • A trainer needs to know the difference between knowledge and skills because a knowledge training session is structured differently to a skill-based training session, and different types of learning activities are used.
  • The objective of a task-based training session is to ensure a person can apply the required knowledge and required skills to perform a work task or activity.
  • Training is not complete until the learner has performed the work task or activity to the standard required in the workplace.

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Training trainers since 1986

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

2 thoughts on “Is there a difference between knowledge training and skill training?”

  1. Greetings Alan,
    A very well-written discourse on what is a stumbling block for many undertaking TAE studies and even more so for so-called “seasoned trainers and assessors”.
    I was informed many years ago to start from the back of the UOC and develop delivery and assessments based upon the outcome being for the tasks to meet the elements, subsequently the skills for the tasks to be performed, and the underpinning knowledge to support the process.
    So refreshing to see that flow still in vogue after reading various materials from RTO’s and a couple of textbooks of late.
    Again many thanks for being a voice of reason and sanity in the current Australian FE/VET scene.
    Derek Bailey

    Like

    1. Thank you, Derek, for your comments. It is good when an experienced person, like you, sees value in the information I provide. I think you are right that some ‘seasoned trainers’ struggle with these fundamental VET concepts.

      Like

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