Working on trainings to teach basics can be very frustrating due to the word basic. The big question is: What is basic and what are basics?

Starting with the big Question

Is “basic knowledge of xyz” the same as knowing “xyz basics”? In many discussions that I’ve heard over time, from school, university, professional work and private conversations, there always have been two perspectives on basics. One perspective is a third person, who has no referenceable expertise in a topic, and defines his basic knowledge of a topic, as having an understanding of the topic, having read a book, seen the documentation, read a few articles or papers. Thus at least being able to follow a discussion. The second perspective is somebody working in the field and talking about basic knowledge of the topic. The result of a university course or years of experience. Both will use the term basic and still refer to completely different spectrums of knowledge.


While I’m far from being a good chess player, I do know the rules and would say “I have basic knowledge on how to play chess”, still I wouldn’t say, that “I know the chess basics”, which from my perspective contain at least a certain variety of classical openings and applicable reactions. While I know that they exist, I’m neither familiar with their names, nor the necessary moves, nor the applicable reactions to them. The luxury about games here is, that we have the extra dimension “rules”. So, the correct initial sentence would have been “I know the rules of chess, or at least I think so” and as applying the rules isn’t that complex, I’m able to play a game of chess.

Simple or Complex

A further challenge with basics is the fact that many people expect basics to be understandable and simple. So, for example, a basic lock with a rotating cylinder with pins in the side, that stop the rotation and a key that can push the pins out of the way, is easy to understand for most people. In return an electronic lock with an NFC reader and an NFC card with secret on it, which is verified by the reader before enabling an electro magnet and allowing the cylinder to be rotated, sounds pretty scary to a lot of people. That being said, nobody is surprised if they don’t understand basic rocket science or the basics of quantum physics.
Maybe we’re further away from the digital world, being just as natural as the mechanical world than we think. Or maybe our baseline of the digital world is by far lower than we think. Is being able to use Excel and Word really IT basics? What if I’m only able to work with LaTeX or OpenOffice?


My understanding of the term basic knowledge is based on the word base. Thus, from the perspective of the discussed field, it’s the knowledge you need to work in, research on or thoroughly understand it. Which means basic knowledge ought to be defined by an expert in the discussed field. (Not underestimating the risk of the expert overdoing it and adding too many things to the list.) Coming from here, it’s a question of trust.
In addition, this approach means that basics can be far from basic.

No Answer

As so often, with misunderstandings, asking the right question is vital. The answer in return is an individual compromise or convention, making sure everybody knows what they’re talking about!