The Concepts of Competence and Skills

The definition and understanding of the concept seems to be related to the way in which the concepts of competence and skills are defined and perceived. The concept of competence also has different meanings and it is not always clear whether competence refers to identifiable skills, or is it related to patterns of behaviour.

The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines:

'competence (also competency) - the ability to do something successfully or efficiently; the scope of a person's or group's knowledge or ability; a skill or ability'.

The term skill is defined as a person's 'ability to do something well' and also as 'an expertise'.

It seems that there is no difference between competence and skill and the terms are described as synonyms.

Finnish researchers Anttiroiko, et al. (2001) refer to competing research approaches to the phenomena of competence.

Rationalistic theories approach competence as a set of relatively stable attributes possessed by actors or the set of requirements characteristic of specific work.

In contrast, the interpretative approaches emphasize the importance of the ways in which actors experience the settings of action and construct meanings concerning action.

The categorization of information literacy approaches by Hepworth (2000), cited earlier, also seems to fit into this framework. However, Finnish researchers conclude that competence has two dimensions - knowledge and skills.

Knowledge may be seen as our understanding of how our everyday world is constituted and how it works. Skills involve the ability to pragmatically apply, consciously or even unconsciously, our knowledge in practical settings. In this setting, 'skills' can be conceived as the technical aspects of competence, emphasizing the aspect of 'how to do'.

Anttiroiko, et al. (2001)


Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License

Sirje Virkus, Tallinn University, 2009