How to reorientate education from knowledge acquisition to knowledge & skill mastery

Last Updated on June 24, 2019

This is the first post in our 3-part series discussing techniques teachers can use to unleash their students’ full potential.  As the number of new international schools continues to grow, schools are tasked with redefining  student success with metrics that go beyond test scores, and focus more on qualitative competition.

This post will focus on the importance of reorienting education from knowledge acquisition to skill mastery, making what students learn at school  more relevant to their lives outside the classroom, consequently increasing student motivation to learn and willingness to actively engage in lessons. 

“What organizations and individuals need is competence, which requires the abilities and skills to apply knowledge to accomplish tasks and solve problems” (Toikkanen, 2016).


Traditionally, education has been characterized by the acquisition of knowledge in various subject areas with the objective of covering a block of information separated by themes & topics. Student understanding has traditionally been measured by final grades on assessments requiring memorization and regurgitation of facts.

It is increasingly becoming evident, however, that GPAs and test scores are not enough to make students  stand out. In a recent research, Google found no correlation between GPAs and success in a workplace (Bryant, 2013). Adam Bryant, Google’s Senior Vice President specifically says:

“Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment” (Bryant, 2013).

Yet more than 80 percent of the time high-school students stress over scores, and lesser attention is given to mastery of real-life skills. A teacher at a public high school shares how “…high-school students break down in tears over grades or pile on advance and AP classes because “that’s what colleges want to see” (Lamb-Sinclair, 2016).

If companies don’t even ask for test scores & GPAs from candidates anymore, then why is our whole education system measured by the success in examinations still? And, is this what is driving motivation & student engagement down?

If you’re a teacher, you understand how hard it can be to motivate your students to actively engage in the learning process.Most teachers use what are known as extrinsic motivators, i.e., rewards and punishments (Toikkanen, 2016). These motivators, however, fuel the memorization of facts knowledge rather the than mastery of knowledge and skills, as students are not usually inspired to learn through  engaging with the content, but through meeting short-term goals to earn a reward. They study to achieve the test score that is necessary in order to graduate or  access the next grade level, and tend to forget the information and skills they learn. To help students unleash their full learning potential and encourage their mastery of real-life skills, teachers must harness intrinsic motivators.  

Two factors compose what we call an intrinsic motivation.

  1. Self-determination: learners have themselves chosen what they learn.
  2. Self-realization values: the learner perceives learning as contributing towards their own future development, potential, and goals.

(Waterman, Schwartz, Goldbacher, Green, Miller, Philip, 2001)

Self-determination requires that teachers apply student-center learning methods (see previous post), where as self-realization compels us to re-examine not only our teaching methods but our whole education system so that the gaps between what students learn in school, how they are assessed and what is expected of them after graduation  are not so dramatic.

Once we understand and apply methods to harness the learners’ intrinsic motivation, teaching should focus on developing skills that encapsulate the ability to:  

  • Learn based on phenomena, so as to transfer knowledge & skills across different disciplines
  • Think critically, allowing students to understand, analyze & evaluate different schools of thought and concepts in order to develop their own cosmotheory
  • Communicate clearly ideas & arguments in written form and speech.

Thus, companies are no longer satisfied with high test-scores, but examine prospective employees based on transferable skill-sets. Academic environments should work towards creating environments that allow students to develop skills from an early age in order to become competitive candidates, but more importantly to bridge the gap between the artificial environment found within education and the real world.

The sooner a school shifts its curricula towards one that focuses more on skills, values and individualized learning the more likely it is to maintain its competitiveness in the market of education.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post on the “Building Character” and its importance not only within academia, but rather as a responsibility education has in order to create globalized world citizens.

As the Head of Growth/Partner, Elina drives user and revenue growth at 100mentors. As a data-driven individual, she enjoys collaborating with bright minds and on innovative products.

2 comments On How to reorientate education from knowledge acquisition to knowledge & skill mastery

  • Well done Elina!
    This was an exceptional article written in plain english and enjoyed both the quality of the content and the pace you used to unfold the ideas around this critical topic.
    Do you have any references to suggest?

  • Hi Elina,
    my thoughts and worries as a teacher of English couldn’t have been depicted better.
    I believe the same about language learning but I haven’t managed yet to change the curricula and train teachers and students.
    If you have more material that could be of help I would appreciate it.

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