Performance before Competence

I found this was an interesting principle of game-play. It relates to notions of tinkering with technology broadly, and having waning interest in being ‘trained’ to use anything. It might also point to how keen teachers are to obtain ‘badges’ from commercial companies. We simply feel that performance comes before competence, and actually need ways to show we are performing.

It further touches on why a device such as the iPad appears to be adopted with less fuss than a laptop or why virtual worlds and games are not as widely tinkered with by teachers. Competency is subjective and socially negotiated. Teachers are far more likely to feel like they are ‘blog-competent’ before being ‘game-competent’ – and that influences our efforts towards how we see our own performance, and that of others. This is turn affects the ‘sets’ we form in digital-space – and means much of the things we believe influence formation and use of “PLN” is far too simplistic.

In relation to schooling, Cazden (1981) suggests this principle is just the reverse of most schools: competence before performance.

Being deemed competent precedes the ability to perform – or at least that is how education used to work.

For example, learning to drive a car requires the driver to be competent before taking to the public road, where as taking to the road in a virtual racing car requires no formal instruction or training.

However, it also means that someone might grasp some of the fundamentals of driving using Mario Cart, or perhaps that they might actually believe that if they crash a real car, it will simply be put back on the road with no harm done to themselves or the car in Gran Turismo.

It might also mean many teachers have only ever experienced computers in almost the opposite way to their students.

Some believe we can perform almost anything without someone else first deciding we’re competent – and why we actually preference being a “downtime learner”. For others it is just a completely unfathomable idea.


Cazden, C. (1981). “Performance before Competence: Assistance to Child Discourse in the Zone of Proximal Development,” Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition 3.1 (pp 5-8).