Concepts and Skills

Contents In ASTD's article, The E-Learning Revolution, Peter Drucker observes, "as things are going, the trainer will be left high and dry. There will, of course, still be training as we have traditionally understood it -- training in skills. But it is not a growth sector. The growth sector is learning, especially concept learning.

In another article (2000) Peter Drucker writes, "The nature of knowledge is that it makes itself obsolete. On the other hand, skills change very slowly. A stone cutter from the middle ages would recognize and be able to use the tools used today. Under these conditions, it was reasonable to believe that when an apprentice finished training at the age of 16 or 18, he had learned most of what he needed to know about his skill for the rest of his life."

Forbes also has an article, Putting More Now Into The Internet in which Drucker further discusses skills and concept learning, "For most of human history a skilled worker had learned what he needed to learn by the time his apprenticeship was finished at 18 or 19. Not so with the modern knowledge-worker. Physicians, medical technicians in the pathology lab, computer-repair people, lawyers and human resource managers can scarcely keep up with developments in their fields. This is why so many professional associations put continuing education among their highest priorities."

By concept learning, Drucker means all learning that is not skills oriented. By skills learning, he means learning how to do something (see Fred Nickols' posting, The e-Learning Revolution).

Drucker, however, is basing his arguments on a skill that is not knowledge based. However, a stone cutter from the middle ages would find that she needs new skills for today's work as hammers and chisels were the only technology used in those days. Not too long ago hydraulic cutters were the rage, next there were electric cutters. Much of today's work is performed by computers. Soon, I suspect, there will be laser cutters, and in the near future, stone cutters will have to learn about new technologies that we have not even thought of yet. These technologies require new skills.

High technology workers, such as computer programmers, are required to stay current with new concept knowledge, such as learning the concepts of object orientated programming. However, just as the concepts change, so do the skills... we have gone from COBOL to C to C++ to Java in a very short time (and these are just a few of the computer languages in use today). High technology workers require not only new concepts, but also new skills.

Does anyone out there want to see a doctor that has today's concepts, but medical skills from the Middle Ages? I don't think so. Skills and concepts go hand-in-hand.


Drucker, P., 2000. Need to Know: Integrating e-Learning with High Velocity Value Chains. A Delphi White Paper. p9.


For a discussion of Peter Drucker, ASTD' e-learning revolution article, and concept and skills, see the TRDEV postings, starting with message 965.



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Created January 21, 2001
Updated October 28, 2007


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