How Do You Teach A New Skill?

Welcome back to Week Seven of this 13 week series where each week I distill down some key strategies and concepts you need to know to design courses that WORK.

#7 How do you teach a new skill?

In our last blog post we looked at how you can help your learners "get it" when you're teaching a new concept. This time, we'll focus on how you help them "do it" when you're teaching a new skill.

First things first, though, how do we know if something is a skill? As Julie Dirksen suggests in Design for How People Learn, you can start by asking yourself this question:

"Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice?"

If practice is key to someone developing proficiency, then you're dealing with a skill.

So now the question is, are you actually going to provide the structure to support a learner in practicing the new skill, or are you really just introducing the skill to them?

Now let's dive into the two components to developing a skill: practice and feedback.


Awareness is the first step to learning, like being shown a video or given a book or presentation on how to throw pottery. But would you say that you're a proficient potter after watching one (or even one thousand) YouTube videos on making pottery? I doubt it!

In order to truly learn a skill, we need to practice it. We need to take action, to apply concepts, to interact with the information in a tangible way.

Now, practice isn't one-size fits all. The key to remember about designing opportunities for learners to practice a new skill is that the difficulty level of the practice should be calibrated to the learner. So you wouldn't have a beginning pottery student practice by making an intricate design with many delicate parts. If you did, they would likely get frustrated and discouraged.

The secret to getting practice right is to balance the level of challenge with the level of ability -- make it just hard enough that they still feel challenged but just accessible enough that they feel some success.


In addition to practice, learners need feedback on their performance in order to develop a new skill.

We've all heard the saying "Perfect practice makes perfect." But we can only get to "perfect" with repetition and feedback so that we make adjustments over time until we've achieved the level of proficiency or expertise that is needed.

A few important things to remember in delivering feedback to your learners are:

1) Change it up! We tune feedback out if it looks and sounds the same every time. Some of the different ways you can mix it up include: sounds, points, character reactions, scores, visual cues, sharing reflections in a learning community online, inviting learners to self-evaluate, allow learners to post work and get feedback from others.

2) Design for Accomplishments. What if instead of structuring your course based on the content you want to teach, you structure it around different skill-levels your learners will need to achieve? For example, if you're teaching techniques for managing limiting beliefs, you might start with having learners earn a badge for identifying a few limiting beliefs. Then, you might have learners level-up by practicing the techniques when in the middle of an emotional response. Think about the milestones--what would someone be able to do at different levels of proficiency--and design feedback opportunities that highlight these learning milestones.

Happy Course Creating!

Have a spectacular week folks!

Jess Paré

Founder & Chief Learning Alchemist

About The Lab!

Thanks for joining me here in the "lab" as we explore what it takes to transform your wisdom and knowledge into programs, courses, and products you can share with your clients in physical reality. Just as the alchemists of old experimented with combining different elements to see what the outcome would be, I see myself as a bit of a mad scientist (with better hair!). By pouring the content swirling in your head into the beaker of my design process, we alchemize your content into something magical that you can share with your audience.

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