Why You Must Understand Skill Types

15.08.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Learning how to learn by Ace Eddleman


In today’s lesson, we’ll take a look at how the type of skill you’re learning impacts how you should approach learning it.

Learning is, for most people, about building and refining skills. There are certainly other goals, (such as becoming an expert in a historical subject, which isn’t really a skill), but I’m going to assume that you’re interested in learning because you want to learn how to do something.

Before you can make real progress, you need to understand this: Different types of skills require different learning systems. While there are some universal concepts in learning (salience, spacing, feedback, etc.), the performance format changes how you should practice.

There are a bunch of different ways to classify skills, but I’m going to focus here on 2 types that are easy to understand: open skills and closed skills.

An open skill is one in which the environment is unpredictable and you’re going to have to vary your actions on a regular basis.

Most team sports fall into this category. Consider how much variation there is in a game of basketball. Players are in a nearly infinite number of positions on the court, and they’re constantly adapting to each other. It’s virtually impossible to predict the exact progression of a basketball game.

Open skills also tend to be the most beneficial in terms of your cognitive abilities, including your ability to exercise self-control.

Closed skills are the opposite of open skills in that they involve predictable environments and predictable actions. To continue using the basketball analogy, this is the category that shooting free-throws falls into.

Shooting free-throws is a predictable skill. The player steps up to the line and shoots the ball at the basket. The rules of the game prevent other players from interfering physically with this process, and the only thing a shooter needs to worry about is maintaining his nerve in the face of a hostile crowd.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this is a spectrum, not a binary classification system. Many activities fall between the two, with some elements of open skill and some elements of closed skill.

No matter what, you need to break down the skill you want to learn and determine where on that spectrum it falls. Most skills are not on either extreme side, and many skills that are can also be broken down into sub-skills that aren’t in the same category.

Playing basketball and shooting free-throws are opposites, but the reality is that free-throws are part of the game of basketball, so you could say it’s a closed skill contained within an open skill.

In tomorrow’s lesson, we’ll go over how to take advantage of the differences between the skill types by utilizing different practice methodologies.


Recommended book

Motor Learning and Performance by Richard Schmidt, Tim Lee


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