Skills vs version training. Are we fishing or training…

Skills vs version training is a key but vital difference in the modern approach to training. This article highlights the difference and how it affects you.

Examining the key differences in how modern educators are taking a different focus to improve education not only professionally but also academically has an important consequence.

A huge thank you to Kevin Shortall an immensely practiced and skilled educator for highlighting this approach to me.

  • Education focus
  • Structure
  • Wrap up

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Education focus

Teach a man to fish

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency has a long history.

In the 12th-century a philosopher called Maimonides wrote about “eight degrees in the duty of charity”.

Whilst this is not a directly cite-able it was explained in a journal called “The Religious Intelligencer” in 1826 as:

Lastly, the eighth and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, namely, to assist the reduced brother, either by a considerable gift or loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. . .

The history of “where this expression comes” from is highly debated and explored.  A fascinating example of research in action.

Yet when the origins of this material came about “versioning” was far less of a consideration.


Poetry in motion

Kevin explained to me “take a poem” you learnt in secondary school.  Either a poem or a play or piece of literature.  It is taken apart piece by piece.

The focus of modern educators now is not to teach you one poem and how it’s constructed.

Instead the focus is now on how to take every poem apart. i.e. skills vs version training.

In this way you learn to interpret every piece of poetry rather than just the poems selected on the curriculum for that year.

This subtle but important shift in ability makes education so much broader and widely usable.

So how would this shift in focus affect business.



Technology introduces versions.  Numbers and names represent how things have changed over time.

  • 1956… Firstly in sequence we saw A as a programming language
  • 1969… Next we had B
  • 1972… As a result Dennis Ritchie gives us C
  • 1983… Following up on the idea of introducing classes, C evolved into C++
  • 1998… International agreement and ANSI/ISO Standard C++ lives.
  • 2000… Also we get C Sharp written as C# as a further evolution of C++
  • 2003… ISO / IEC standard 14882:2003 and versioning starts to kick in
  • 2011… C++11 improves up on the standard
  • 2014… And we get then next version.  Does that mean all the previous still makes sense?
  • 2017… C++17 and the standard moves on again.  3 years to adapt?

The timeline of programming languages is available here.

In all of these languages… there is no mention of pseudocode.

When we discuss skills vs version training would see you prefer to be able to program or be required to study each version as a separate skill.


Pseudocode was taught to me in 1996 in college.  I had to write computer programs in a language that didn’t exist.

The idea was that if I could program in a generic way then every programming language was open to me.

Instead of focusing or learning just one language which would go out of date, I was learning to program for life.

Learn the skill of programming rather than training in one version of a programming language.


Skills vs version training

Skills vs version training represents a small but vital shift in focus.

How do you construct your training? How does this approach permeate your training solutions?

If you’re teaching people generic skills rather than versions of solutions, you serve them better.

As the trainer, educator, manager or senior adviser in your business responsible for imparting knowledge keeping this in mind is important.

When you teach people to press a button in a specific place, when the system updates… you have to retrain.

Yet if you’re teaching “why” you press that button, system updates will not have the same level of impact when updates occur.

In a modern IT world, updates do occur and this ability to adapt to change can save a business, or break it.




Definition : The term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program.

In dictionaries, curriculum is often defined as the courses offered by a school, but it is rarely used in such a general sense in schools

Your business has a curriculum.  The curriculum is a collective term for all the subjects and skills the employees of your business need to have to work there.

Some of those subjects are common enough, such as Manual Handling, Respect in the workplace, Literacy, Numeracy and Data Protection.

An academy is defined as a place of study or training in a special field e.g. “a police academy”.   So your business has an academy of itself.

When you’re building your “business academy” what areas will you train in?



Subjects are the primary areas of training within a curriculum.  Subjects are the broad encompassing of skills vs version training.

From an academic point of view, when you attend secondary school in Ireland at about age 12, you will have between 6 and 9 subjects to study.

Yet when you join a business, you bring learnt subjects with you.  Where a business needs to back-fill and ensure abilities, the topic of “what subjects” arises.


The Sales function and the Customer support functions are different in terms of operation but may have shared skills, such as “soft skills” in terms of communication.

Even if someone never does any business paid training in a subject, there is an expectation of having skills in the area.

If they haven’t the skills, the business has two choices, train them up or let them go.

When you have a role there are expected skills, abilities and background knowledge.  Yet how do you define those?


Learning Objectives

By the end of this subject you will be able to!  Learning objectives / learning outcomes  often shortens to LOs.

When you review subjects that make up part of a university course it becomes very clear what you’ll be able to do at the end of that course of study.

Lets have a look at the eLearning module available in IT Tallaght, semester 8 of the IT management course.

Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of this module the learner will be able to:
LO1 Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the principles of learning and the process of instruction.
LO2 Apply the principles of instructional design to the development of a learning object.
LO3 Discuss the critical issues involved in the development of an appropriate e-learning strategy in an organisation.
LO4 Conduct a critical evaluation of an e-learning programme in terms of learning benefits and return on investment

So if you took your business as a curriculum.  Then you could examine roles as subjects and for each of those subjects identify the key skills that role requires.

This is identifying the learning outcomes / learning objectives for this role.



So if you say, “the ability to sell” is an LO then what things need to be studied.

Appearance, communication, prompt response, to do list management, objection handling, etc.

I’m sure you can mentally work out you might like to include if you have sales skills and what you expect your people should be able to deliver.

Yet this is where trainers, educators and mentors need to take note of the focus of skills vs version training.

Don’t focus on just teaching the how of using the current version, consider how you can teach why.

Expanding the training to include the why can make context and adaptability so much more effective.



Philip Lacey in Gateway Technical support June 1999
Me in Gateway in June 1999. Senior Technician and New Product Introduction Trainer at the time.

At the very bottom of the structure you have the materials that make up lessons.

For some companies, the older approach was handing support staff a version of the manual or a link to a description is the approach.

Notice in the image to the left of my head the shelf full of different versions of manuals in case I needed some reference material.

That approach works for that version of that manual.  So when a new version comes out, you need more manuals.  How big does your shelf get?


Teaching the why of the approach is far better.

Every internet browser has a help / about function which is where you usually find a built in “update” function.

Knowing that you can generally support every browser regardless of make and model… that is a lot of browser support with no manuals.


Wrap up

Skills vs version training is an important consideration when developing training materials and lessons.

Modern educators need to understand why they’re teaching something, not just running through the process of reading information from slides.


There are very creative education designers and developers available who truly understand the needs of training.

Learning from the best is a privilege, the likes of Kevin Shortall , Sean McHugh and Liz Sherry

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside numerous professional business educators including the amazing Raquel Hanley.

If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.



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