Career-Level Proximal Development

Here’s where the zone of proximal development gets even more interesting. We can apply the theory beyond individual tasks and instead consider it in the realm of career goals. But first, let’s get nerdy.

Fictitious skill tree for sword-fighting skills

Have you ever played a role-playing game such as Diablo, World of Warcraft or, I’m showing my age here, EverQuest? A key part of these games is that the player’s character gains experience as they are playing the game. This experience allows the character to level up and become more powerful. Additionally, characters often earn skill points that they can invest in themselves to improve at particular actions. You often see these skills arranged in a tree, with the achievement of one skill unlocking the ability to achieve the next, building the character’s complete skill set as they progress in the game. There may even be multiple skill trees focusing on alternative progression paths, such as spellcasting, physical strength, and blacksmithing.

The following illustration is a fictitious skill tree for a video game character’s sword-fighting skills. In the game, the character starts by learning the initial slash skill, and then they choose how to invest their skill points from there. They could do so in an exploratory way, but the beauty of the tree representation is that it allows the player to begin with the end in mind. If being an expert at the riposte skill is essential, then they know that they need to learn a basic slash, then invest in parrying to master the riposte.

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