Skills are important, because they allow us to adapt to new circumstances without the need to devise an entirely novel approach. Skills are learned after we experience a pleasing result for a specific behavior we engage in then we learn to apply the behavior to similar situations. Consequently, learning a new skill happens when we encounter a situation where our existing ability will not be successful. With this knowledge in hand, teaching skills to others becomes far easier as we seek to shape student behavior.
While practice makes perfect seems to be the prevailing wisdom, learning actually requires reinforcement versus repetition. We learn when our attempts are reinforced with success over and over again. Repetition, however, allows us to turn an action or thought into a reflex, yet it fails to correct us when we are wrong. The problem with ensuring reinforcement occurs is that it must immediately follow after we do the correct thing versus later down the road when we receive compensation for work either through a paycheck or report card.
Erroneously, most people feel grades are the reward for good study habits and success on an exam or project resulting from learning. Because grades come long after the test has been taken and the paper written, learning is actually rewarded by the feeling of being correct. As such, a teacher telling us we are correct or a parent taking the time to praise our efforts actually rewards us for trying to learn more than grades do. It is, therefore, when we receive this form of encouragement that we continue to learn.
Furthermore, learning a new skill is actually the result of a continuing educational process. To learn a skill, an individual must build a repertoire of experiences. Every time a learner experiences an event, he or she needs to devise a proper response. With a history of similar experiences, a similar response, which has been successful in the past, is likely to be used while success is more probably. It is this process of reusing tactics over and over again to address novel situations that enables us to learn new and improve skills, thus we must continually learn.
Whether in school or out in the real world, our time is spent reacting to new and familiar situations, as well as solving novel problems. When we are successful, we use those responses and tactics over and over again. In doing so, we are learning a new set of skills. Fortunately, understanding this concept enables teachers to guide their lessons, so their students do not simply learn tactics. By progressively training student to adapt their skills to novel problems, new and more flexible skills can be developed. Moreover, educators have the ability to shape the learning process, so students have the skills they need to succeed versus a history of tactics.