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Key skills: making a difference
Key skills: making a difference

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1 Introduction to key skills

1.1 What are key skills?

Key skills underpin our ability to carry out successfully a wide range of tasks in higher education, employment and whenever and wherever we continue to learn.

Developing skills is not a one-off task. It takes time, and is an active blend of actually using the skill and then thinking about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Give yourself opportunities to develop and practise your skills in different contexts – at home or at work, in clubs or societies – as well as during your studies.

However, simply applying skills repeatedly does not mean necessarily that you improve either your skills or your performance. Learning and improving involves change: changes of technique, changes in skill, changes in knowledge, changes in understanding. If we are not open to change, there may be little reason to invest time, energy and resources in learning. And being open to change means being open to ideas about what learning itself is:

Learning is that varied set of processes whereby individuals and groups of individuals acquire knowledge or skill, change attitudes, become better informed about something familiar, or discover, inquire about, or become aware of something new.

Learning involves the development of intellectual and emotional capabilities, the ability to think, to build skills, to find and solve problems, to be creative, to manage emotions, to change attitudes, to perform, and to learn from experience.

Today, learning is not the accumulation of information, but the subtle set of skills involved in knowing what to do with information. It is the ability to evaluate, synthesise and apply information. The purpose of learning is not just to inform but to transform. The goal is not just to cover material but uncover ideas and feelings. Above all, learning is not a spectator sport!

(Source: J. R. Davis & A. B. Davis (2000), Managing Your Own Learning, San Francisco, BK Publishers Inc., pp. 40–1)

This course invites you to think about and develop skills such as communicating effectively, using information technology confidently, and improving your own learning and, ultimately, your performance. As we analyse and understand the skills we use and need, we become more confident about assessing our own strengths, more effective in identifying where we need to improve, and better able to plan how we might go about it. There are a number of key skills which are recognised as being centrally important, both in higher education and in the workplace, to understanding and improving our own learning needs. This course focuses in particular on:

  • improving your own learning and performance

  • communication

  • information technology

  • information literacy

  • application of number

  • problem solving

  • working with others.

These skills, other than information literacy, are based on the key skills national standards developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) in England, Awdurdad Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm Ac Asesu (ACCAC) in Wales and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) in Northern Ireland. In Scotland the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has developed descriptions for six core skills. However, all the skills have an international relevance.

The skill of information literacy, that is finding and using information (for example, in library databases, CD-ROMs and on the web) is now essential in higher education and is included in this course.

In your work/ learning, you may come across different terms to describe skills in similar areas. No one set of terms is ‘correct’, but all the key skills are covered at a level appropriate to study in higher education, and at graduate level (or equivalent) for the workplace.