Scriptlets and Skills

When we talk about skills, we are often referring to what we believe a person "knows how to do." Unfortunately, this can mean just about anything at all. Any human action or capability can be referred to as a skill, so the word offers us very little to go with if we want to teach skills. We are left in the position of saying we want to teach just about anything.

What exactly is the problem here? Why shouldn't memorizing a list of biological terminology be a skill, for example? By any definition, this would be a skill, since one could require it of students. Since some of them would be better at this than others, we could say they were more skilled in biology and give them a better score on an exam than those who were less skilled. But, looked at in terms of scriptlets, it becomes clear that the skill involved is really a cognitive scriptlet involving memorization. If we wanted to teach this scriptlet, we would have to teach someone how to memorize, so they became good at memorization rather than becoming good at biology.

One problem with the word "skill" is that we can say "John knows how to do mathematics" or "John knows how to do biology" and still feel comfortable that we are talking about skills because we are talking about knowing how to do something. The illusion is that mathematics or biology are the kinds of things one can learn to do. We might expect our employees to know how to do systems installation or to manage other employees, for example. But, although these may seem like skills, they are really collections of a large number of scriptlets in each case. This becomes clear when one thinks about teaching someone to do any of these things.

You can't teach someone to do biology, but you can teach them to dissect a frog (a physical scriptlet), or relate diet components to biological functions (a cognitive scriptlet), or interpret chemical equations (a perceptual scriptlet). In fact, even these scriptlets are likely to made up of many smaller scriptlets (such as knife handling).

Similarly, you can't teach students to do mathematics, but you can teach them addition (here changing a cognitive scriptlet into a perceptual one over time) or how to prove a theorem in plane geometry.

In business, this means we have to stop thinking about teaching management techniques, or communication methods. Why? Because these are not scriptlets. They tend to be taught the way high school biology is taught, as facts to be memorized, which as I have said, is only relevant to teach if memorization is the scriptlet you want students to master. But if we want students to get good at managing or communicating, we have to do something else.

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