Is there a space beyond fluency?

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay 

I recently attended a meeting of thought leaders to explore some thinking around building professional capability in areas of the curriculum. One of the topics raised was the use of the term ‘fluency’ to refer to someone who is able to demonstrate the skills and knowledge in a particular area to a high level, working with independence, showing respect for others in the process and so on.

The analogy was made with music – how in the early stages a person must work hard to acquire the basic skills and knowledge to play a particular instrument, and when they do, the sound they create is recognisable to others. At this point they demonstrate proficiency, things are ‘coming together’ where their confidence about playing is developing. From proficiency the budding musician moves to a point where they may play with more confidence, and begin to make the connection between what they are playing and the notation on the music sheet before them. They can read the music, translate what that means into what they play and demonstrate all of this with an understanding of the need to maintain timing – particularly if playing with others. They have become literate.

Through further training and much practice, a musically literate person can then develop ‘fluency’ in how they play, acting without such concentration on all aspects of the musical notation and finger position etc. to concentrate on the music produced and to be able to express him or herself through that sound.

This may be perceived to be the pinnacle of success – the goal we ought to aspire to. But what if we are to consider an additional phase? Take for instance the Jazz musician, who is absolutely fluent in how they play, but with an extra dimension of confidence and ‘in-tune-ness’ to themselves, the music and others playing with them that allows them to inject variations into what they play without detracting from the overall effect – most times, adding to it, making it more interesting etc. Acting agentically as a musician in this way requires a highly developed level of skill and knowledge, together with the awareness of choices that can be made and the ability to act on those choices – but all the time, being respectful of and responsible to the others who may be playing with you.

This got me thinking about some work I did a number of years ago, building a framework for thinking about digital fluency. Here’s a diagram I created then to try and capture my thinking at the time…

After the conversations with colleagues, I have begun thinking about how we could usefully think about a phase beyond fluency, to where the learner is acting with more independence with more choices (and ability to act on these choices) in how they work. Working in this way they become more innovative, creative and spontaneous – while at the same time demonstrating a critical awareness of the impact of their words and actions on others – and on the environment they share (whether that is a classroom, concert hall or the planet in which we all live). Pondering that I’ve begun a modified version of my diagram illustrated below…

I need to acknowledge that this work isn’t entirely original – there are plenty of people who have contributed to the developmental theory that lies behind such progressions as illustrated here – including the CBAM framework that has helped inform the development of eLearning Planning Framework here in NZ for example. Besides adding the column for digital agency, I’ve changed the heading for the first column from ‘proficiency’ to ‘competency’ as a number of people had responded to say they felt ‘proficiency’ signalled a level of expertise or ability beyond the first level as described in my progressions.

I intend to continue working with this – but would welcome thoughts and feedback.

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