How adults develop computer skills: An extension of deliberate practice theory

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Business|Education, Technology of|Information Science




In an era when business enterprises are increasing their use of information technologies, Human Resource Development personnel are faced with the problem of helping employees develop computer skills. Prior research indicates that, in general, adults learn how to use computers when they have had the benefit of direct experience and work in an environment that supports learning. Past research has not identified the specific aspects of these two key variables that help adults develop computer skills. Additionally, past research has not identified other sets of variables that may also help adults learn how to use computers.^ To address this problem, semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted with 20 employees who represented a cross-section of a department of a national insurance company. The employees varied in age, years of service, and computer experience. During the interviews, the employees described their perceptions of what promoted or inhibited the development of their computer skills in either the classroom training or daily work setting.^ An analysis of the interview data revealed four key findings. First employees reported having learned a wide range of computer skills in both the classroom and daily work setting. Second, employees reported having learned more skills on the job than in a classroom setting. Third, the place of learning (i.e., classroom or work setting) was not as important as the instructional process (e.g., engaging in reflective dialogues, solving a specific work problem). The analysis of the interview transcripts identified eight themes that described activities that promoted or inhibited the development of computer skills across settings. Finally, the themes extended and clarified the ways in which the theory of deliberate practice can be used to understand how adults develop skills such as learning how to use computers. The practical significance of using the extended model to improve classroom training or to improve the ways in which adults learn how to use computers as part of their daily work was also discussed. ^