The Music Lesson by Frederick Leighton

Learning New Skills — 9 Must Know Theories and Methods

To learn a new skill you have to follow a set of theory. Without this, you are a journey with no map —a journey in which we are lost in confusion.

by Murray Johannsen. Feel to connect. 

Why We Must Learn Skills Better

We are expected to know how to learn but are never taught. We are expected to grow skills, but are never taught how.” — Murray Johannsen

The system assumes you know, or that somehow you will figured out how to learn expertise and skills. Some do. But most don’t.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” — A common saying in Buddhism and the martial arts traditions in Asia

The Master Plan

“If we don’t have a map for our career, we are lost in the present, blind to the future.” — Murray Johannsen

Skill-Based Learning. What You Need To Know When You Need It. Essential learning theory you need to know but were never taught.

How To Start: Accelerate Skills Development and Learn From Experience

The List of Learning Theories

1. The Legacee Skill Building Model

“We are expected to know how to learn but are never taught. We are expected to grow skills, but are never taught how.” — Murray Johannsen

“We are expected to know how to learn but are never taught. We are expected to grow skills, but are never shown how.” — Murray Johannsen

2. Blooms’s Taxonomy

Technically this is known as “Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain” since it primarily focused on expertise. But the theory also has insights when it comes to new skill learning. 

There are 6 levels in this learning model. The steps are:

  • knowledge,
  • comprehension,
  • analysis.
  • synthesis,
  • application, and
  • evaluation.

Knowledge is learning new things to improve what you know or don’t know.

Comprehension is actually understanding. As you know, words have multiple meanings. Take the word bow. It can be part of a ship or a behavior conveying respect.

Analysis and synthesis are a bit fuzzy. is taking what you learned and break it down and understand each part, thoroughly.

Synthesis is being able to put all the parts you broke down during analysis and put it back together and it still makes sense.

Application is applying everything you have learned to your everyday life.

Finally, evaluation is sitting back and monitor everything that plays out and see where your ideas and management flourishes and where it fails. Therefore, you can make adjustments accordingly. 

It turns out there are different types of taxonomies based on Bloom’s original model. In fact, there is a digital version of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

3. Bandura’s Self-Effacacy Theory

Self-efficacy theory primarily relates to a belief about learning new skills.  Bandura proposed that a key element of self-efficacy theory is the importance of observational learning and a belief that you will succeed. An individual with a weak sense of self-efficacy will avoid challenging tasks, believing the task and/or situation is beyond their capabilities by focusing on negative outcomes or personal failings.

Also, Individuals with a strong sense of self-efficacy recover quickly from setbacks, view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered, and develop a deeper interest in activities in which they participate. You might say that they are resilient.

The more ammunition for the gun, the more likely you will hit something. Just like the more skill development theories you know, the more ways you have to develop a skill.

4. The Five Stages of Competence

Woman worker in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, 1942. Photo by: Photo by Alfred T. P

This theory for learning new skills has four developmental stages, starting with the unconscious and ending with the unconscious. (Whitmore 2002). In between, there are two other stages of learning.

1. Unconscious Incompetence. At this phase, there is no understanding that a problem exists. For example, until one understands mindfulness, being mindless is not a problem.

2. Conscious Incompetence. At this phase, there is no understanding that a problem exists. For example, until one understands mindfulness, being mindless is not a problem.

3. Conscious Competence. The conscious effort continues with practice. But as one practices more, conscious awareness becomes less.

4. Unconscious Competence. Know a new skill runs largely without conscious monitoring. One sees a high level of performance with little conscious input. One example — walking.

5. Mindful Competence.  Here, the skill runs with conscious monitoring. One example — walking. One can engage in mindful marketing.

5. Modeling


Another major method of learning new skills makes use of modeling. Considered one of the three most important theories of learning in the behavioral school of psychology (along with classical and operant conditioning), it focuses on behavior and how we learn through observation.  

You don’t necessarily need theory to make modeling work. If you want to learn how to eat with a fork, you can just observe how this is being done. However, the more complex the skill, the more important the learning theory. 

Using modeling for learning new skills sometimes works for more complex behaviors. Children learn how to be a father or mother by watching their parents. You can also explain modeling as a fundamental reason the timeless leadership principle known as leading by example works so well.  

Let’s say a teacher says students should, “Treat leaders with respect.”  Nothing wrong with the principle, but respect is an abstract concept not easily turned into discrete behaviors.

So a good teacher would drill down and provide specific behavioral examples. Examples such as:

  • When speaking, use sir, madam or a title with the surname, 
  • Keep your head lower than the other,
  • Speak in a soft tone, and
  • Keep eye contact to a minimum.

There are other subtle signals as well. The use of the voice and nonverbal communication facial signals and gestures go hand in hand conveying respect.

Of course, this new learning can still be rather vague, so you might have someone model the new learning from a movie.

Video: The Opening Scene of the Godfather. This scene shows respect in the Italian culture from the Oscar-winning best picture of 1972. You can also learn a great deal about reciprocity and the nuances of how to use power.

Painting of a musician skilled and one who lacks skills

6. Unlearning Old Behaviors

The goal of learning new skills is to create a habit. But what happens if that habit is practiced wrong? Take for example the simple act of tying a shoelace. There is a better way. But will we learn it? probably not for we must unlearn a habit before we can learn a new one. You might say, not a big deal. But what about typing?

As you get older, you realize that certain habits just aren’t working. For example, we still cannot remember another person’s name after being introduced. But before you can learn a new skill, you have to unlearn the old one.  Let’s illustrate this with another example. 

A keyboard on a typewriter. Notice that the position of the keys has not changed.
A keyboard on a typewriter. Noticed that the position of the keys has not changed.

The story goes that when the keyboard used in the English-speaking world was developed, it was designed to slow typists down, not speed them up. It turns out that in the early days of the typewriter, there were mechanical linkages for the strikers hitting the paper. If one would type too fast, these strikers would jam.

So why isn’t there a better keyboard? There is. But people won’t use it since it would take such a long time to unlearn the old and relearn the new.

All of us have an automatic sequence allowing us to write or type letters. It’s almost like the brain hardwires itself for these. But to change keyboards or your signature, you must unlearn the old program and learn a new one. This is harder than it sounds — the mind prefers the old way — always.

Many know but cannot do. They are experts without skill — songbirds that can’t sing. Find your voice by discovering how to get good at skill-building. These four articles provide the necessary foundations for the fundamental nature of the opportunity and the challenge of skill-building.

7. Find Good Teachers With Deep Subject Expertise

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” — A common saying in Buddhism and the martial arts traditions in Asia

You will need someone with deep knowledge of the subject. You should understand, that there are many false experts. Some examples:

Professors. who teach what they can’t do in the real world. It becomes a problem. The Ph.D. with no real experience. I mean, how can you believe a political scientist if they never ran or won an elected office? Seriously.

The Grifters. You might consider this a sophisticated con. They speak lies with confidence. Those who are unsophisticated cannot detect if they are lying or not.

To protect yourself, you should understand the 10 Qualities of a Good Teacher and the Top Characteristics of good ones.

8. Master The Mastery Practices

9. Anderson’s Three Stage Model

According to Anderson (1985), skill-building goes through the cognitive, associative, and autonomous stages. It’s easy to remember if you can stomach the jargon. 

Background: The Basis For the Theory

You might say, staying in the cognitive stage requires too much thinking; continuing in the associative stage is inefficient; getting to the autonomous stage requires lots of practice. Since these three stages apply to all skill learning including playing chess, typing, memorizing, or problem-solving, exceptional people strive to discover how to learn a skill quicker than their peers.

One way is to shorten the practice cycle (the associative stage) by using smart practice techniques. All methods of practice are not equally effective in boosting efficiency. Since a skill must be practiced, a great amount of time, effort, and sweat if one knows how to go about it (see below). 

Want To Learn Skills Faster? Get Your Own Coach

“Change is the end result of all true learning.” ― Leo Buscaglia

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Access On Site Resources

Find the Right Skill Building Theory. Really, you can’t learn something new without having the right theory as a guide. The problem, there is a lot of bad theory out there.

Get to Mastery. Forget about grades. This is not about that kind of learning.

Seven Reasons Skills Don’t Get Developed. Learning is not just about getting an “A”. In fact, according to Google, a high GPA is not correlated with business success and is not considered relevant in hiring. More than just theory, they want to know if you have skills. Discover why many don’t.

Five Must-Know Guidelines For Skill Building. What’s a skill builder to do? Here are six principles to keep in mind when skill-building. 

Eight Online Classes To Accelerate Learning New Skills. You might become complacent and think, “Well, I got my degree so why worry? Of course, you can act like the ostrich with your head in the sand but you might wake up one day and have been replaced by an intelligent machine.


Alsop, Ronald (2013). The Crucial Skills New Hires Lack, BBC Capital.

Anderson, J. R. (1985). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. New York: Freeman, page 240-241.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.],  Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.

Gay, I. R. (1973). Temporal Position of Reviews and its Effect on the Retention of Mathematical Rules. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64:171-182.

Goldsmith, Marshall & Lyons, Laurence (2005). Coaching for Leadership: The Practice of Leadership Coaching from the World’s Greatest Coaches, 2nd Edition, Pfeiffer.

Franzoi, Steven (2014). Essentials of Psychology, 5th Edition. Wiley.

Robbins, S. & Hunsaker, Phillip L. (2008). Training In Interpersonal Skills (6th Edition), Prentice-Hall.

Whetten, David & Cameron, Kim (2010). Developing Management Skills, 8th Edition. Prentice-Hall.

First Published: December 20, 2014. Last Update: July 9, 2023

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Work Skills For the 21st Century