The Skills, Rules, Knowledge Framework

Piers YoungNotesLeave a Comment

The Skills, Rules, Knowledge was developed by Rasmussen (1983) to help designers combine information requirements for a system and aspects of human cognition. It outlines 3 main levels that information is absorbed by humans and acted upon.

The below outline is from :

Skill-based level

A skill-based behaviour represents a type of behaviour that requires very little or no conscious control to perform or execute an action once an intention is formed; also known as a sensorimotor behaviour. Performance is smooth, automated, and consists of highly integrated patterns of behaviour in most skill-based control (Rasmussen, 1990). For example, bicycle riding is considered a skill-based behaviour in which very little attention is required for control once the skill is acquired. This automaticity allows operators to free up cognitive resources, which can then be used for higher cognitive functions like problem solving (Wickens & Hollands, 2000).

Rule-based level

A rule-based behaviour is characterised by the use of rules and procedures to select a course of action in a familiar work situation (Rasmussen, 1990). The rules can be a set of instructions acquired by the operator through experience or given by supervisors and former operators.

Operators are not required to know the underlying principles of a system, to perform a rule-based control. For example, hospitals have highly-proceduralised instructions for fire emergencies. Therefore, when one sees a fire, one can follow the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the patients without any knowledge of fire behaviour.

Knowledge-based level

A knowledge-based behaviour represents a more advanced level of reasoning (Wirstad, 1988). This type of control must be employed when the situation is novel and unexpected. Operators are required to know the fundamental principles and laws by which the system is governed. Since operators need to form explicit goals based on their current analysis of the system, cognitive workload is typically greater than when using skill- or rule-based behaviours.

Gerver makes the point (which seems true across a number of industries, not just in schools) that

“most traditional schools don’t operate at the sills or the knowledge level but at the rules level. As pupils, we learn that the routines, the systems, the criteria for success and failure and then operate almost automatically within that level. I have seen so many children and, indeed, teachers, operate here. There fore the real challenge and debate needs to be around the balance and emphasis of where we fall as schools and the strategies we need to develop to work through all three stages.”

Wholeheartedly agree. And Gerver points to the RSA’s Opening Minds Curriculum as a starting point for getting the balance right. Looks interesting.


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