Dreyfus model of skill acquisition

The science of how to learn new things could become one of the major applied disciplines in our time. Each of us learns a lot of skills and abilities throughout the life. No matter how different these skills are — from making a cake and searching Google to performing Beethoven sonatas and writing scientific articles — they are based on general principles. Understanding these principles would make learning a more clear and painless process.
Psychology studies these principles from its very foundation. Today, we know much more about the training mechanisms, although still not enough. Even change management actively uses the model to study how the employees get new skills.
Skill acquisition models will help you understand not only how the learning process works, but also more effectively plan your own activities, avoid unnecessary difficulties and get the best result in less time.
True, they will not give you the most important thing — regular and conscious practice. This part of the work will have to be done by yourself.

One of the most famous skill acquisition models was developed in the early 1980s by the brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus of the University of California at Berkeley. This model is often discussed in scientific and popular science literature.
According to the Dreyfus model, mastering any skill is divided into five stages:
• Novice
• Advanced beginner
• Competent
• Proficient
• Expert
Novice always follows the rules — for him, they have the status of an immutable law. When you start to learn a new skill, the rules are very important: only with their help you can at least somehow navigate the material and get the necessary experience. In addition, in many cases, the rules are sufficient. It is not necessary to be a cook to prepare a cake and to please your relatives – just read the recipe and follow the instructions clearly.
For the advanced beginner the rule is becoming situational: in one situation one method is good, in another it is better to use another one. The advanced beginner knows how to make more than one cake, and he will not prepare a vanilla cake the same way as a chocolate cake. This is already a good step towards competence.
The competent person sees not only the rules but the basic principles and models. He begins to rely more on his own ideas and experience, rather than on a set of instructions. At this level, you act more freely and can flexibly adjust to the situation. There is already a zone of personal responsibility for the result — a zone that many do not reach.
The proficient person goes farther and a little bit the other way. His actions are less based on principles, and more on a sense of intuition. The proficient realizes how to act at the right time, and his choice is often true. Instead of various disparate parts, he sees an integral whole.
The expert acts even more intuitively: he just does — and it works. If he is asked why he made this or that decision, it may be difficult for him to give an answer — for him, it seems so obvious. And it will not arrogant that is more common for a beginner, but a deep knowledge. We can even say it is a reflex. This requires many days and months of practice: the expert’s experience is so great that in every single situation he subconsciously knows what to do.

We must admit that the borders between these levels are conventional — there is no clear gradation between them. In addition, leveling up does not always mean something good. For example, an expert is not always a good teacher, and a person who is at the previous stage can feel more comfortable in this role.

— Slimane Zouggari