It’s all about skills, not “knowledge” (Plus, see the full From Idea To Launch course “Performance Path Map”)

Learning a new complex skill is a big process. That’s a simple fact.

But there are many things that can be done to make the learning process both more effective and more enjoyable. And typically, they involve relatively simple and straightforward additions to learning materials.

So it kills me when I see tons of courses, books, and classes neglect to make the effort and, say, include a “Performance Path Map.” What’s a Performance Path Map? More on that in a minute. For now, let’s start at the beginning.

When you’re learning something new, it’s extremely helpful to:

  • Always know where you’re at, currently, within the overall process.
  • Be able to see the progression of what skills you’ve learned, and which new ones you’re about to learn.
  • Have a clear reason to believe that this learning process works, and that you can do it — without luck or “natural talent.”

Note that I highlighted one very important word in there: skills.

It’s all about skills

All too often, people are just throwing new “knowledge”, or facts, at you, left and right. But how you really learn is by focusing on skills, not “knowledge.”

If you take just one thing away from this article, make it the following:

SKILLS > “knowledge”

Let’s say you’re learning how to prepare a steak.

To prepare a steak, you need to learn:

  • how to pick the right pan
  • how to heat the pan properly
  • how to season the steak
  • the cooking technique

Notice: ^^ those are all skills.

Do you need to know all the following things?

  • the history of cast iron skillets
  • who invented the cooking techniques
  • what 3-star Michelin NYC chef cooks using this same method

No, you don’t. And notice that those are all pieces of “knowledge,” not skills.

Now, if you’re interested in pots and pans, maybe you do really want to know more about the history of cast iron. And that’s great. Go ahead and dig in! I’ll always encourage you to learn more about something you’re interested in.

But to learn how to cook a damn good steak, the most important thing is to focus on the skills.

When you’re learning anything new, you need to focus on the skills required.

But just learning skills in a haphazard fashion — with no direction and plan — still won’t work. You need to have a clear progression of the skills you need to acquire along the way — from the initial beginner skills, all the way through to the most advanced ones.

And that’s where a “Performance Path Map” comes in.

The “Performance Path Map”: your skill-learning compass

As Kathy Sierra puts it in her book Badass: Making Users Awesome:

“A Performance Path Map is about what you do, not what you learn.

It’s a visual representation of the skills you learn as you progress through the ranks of learning a new complex skill.

As Sierra puts it:

An ideal Performance Path Map [gives you]:

  • Clear steps of progression from beginner to badass.
  • A way to assess where you are relative to the full map. “You are here.”
  • A credible reason to believe it works, and confidence that it can work without “natural talent” or spectacular luck.

If those three items look familiar, that’s because they’re the same three I highlighted at the beginning of this article :)

I’ve incorporated a Performance Path Map into my new course, From Idea To Launch

Here is the Performance Path Map — or as I like to call it, Your Compass — for my course From Idea To Launch:

Notice how it clearly shows you:

  • A progression of the skills you’ll learn, all the way from coming up with your web application idea (beginner) through to deploying it (advanced, or “badass”, as Sierra would say)
  • Where you are in the process
  • The skills you’ll learn as you work your way up — no luck or “natural talent” required

So remember, when you’re learning a new complex skill, remember to focus on the skills; have a clear path for where you’ve been, and where you’re headed; and always know where you are, on that path.

And if your learning resources don’t provide you with a Performance Path Map, now you can create your own.

My new course, From Idea To Launch, is now open!

From Idea To Launch, my new video-based online course & community is now open. It teaches you how you build a complete Laravel web application, step by step, based on your own idea.

Read more about the course now.

Alex Coleman helps others learn to build web applications with Laravel. His articles and courses have helped over 10,000 developers level-up their PHP web development skills and learn to build and launch their own web applications to the world. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.