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Skill Acquisition and Definition: The Dreyfus Model

In 1980, a couple of brothers with the last name Dreyfus proposed a model of skill acquisition that has gone on to have a fair bit of influence on discussions about learning, process, and practice. Later they would go on to publish a book based on this paper and in that book they would refine the model a bit to its current form. The model lists five phases of skill acquisition: Novice, Advanced Beginner, Competent, Proficient and Expert. There’s obviously a lot to it, since it takes an entire book to describe it, but the gist of it is that skill acquirers move from “dogmatic following of rules and lack of big picture” to “intuitive transcending of rules and complete understanding of big picture. Michael Eraut summarized the five stages of increasing skill as follows:

1. Novice

• "Rigid adherence to taught rules or plans."

• No exercise of "discretionary judgment"

2. Advanced beginner

• Limited "situational perception."

• All aspects of work treated separately with equal importance

3. Competent

• "Coping with crowdedness" (multiple activities, accumulation of information)

• Some perception of actions in relation to goal

• Deliberate planning

• Formulates routines.

4. Proficient

• Holistic view of situation

• Prioritizes importance of aspects

• "Perceives deviations from the normal pattern."

• Employs maxims for guidance, with meanings that adapt to the situation at hand

5. Expert

• Transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims

• "Intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding."

• Has "vision of what is possible."

• Uses "analytical approaches" in new situations or in case of problems.

Instead the original Dreyfus model is based on four binary qualities:

  • Recollection (non-situational or situational)

  • Recognition (decomposed or holistic)

  • Decision (analytical or intuitive)

  • Awareness (monitoring or absorbed)