5 Stage Model Of Skill Acquisition

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5 Stage Model Of Skill Acquisition

The process of Skill Acquisition isn’t always clear. It’s easy to google “learn to play chess” or “learn yoga” than to actually perform and learn it practically. What you need is an approach to keep you going once you get past the early stages of learning. It’s called the Dreyfus model. It can help you measure your performance while learning a skill. Stuart E. Dreyfus and Hubert L. Dreyfus developed this model.


Five Stages of Skill Acquisition

The point of the Dreyfus model is that it’s a development model that explains how one develops a skill. Let’s go through the below-mentioned steps:

Skill Acquisition

There are five levels of skill development. If we look at the vertical axis we could consider that as a degree of measuring skill. The horizontal axis is to do with relevant experience that is an experience that helps us develop greater skill in something.


This first level of skill acquisition is called the Novice level. To develop a sense of classification a relationship with rules let’s imagine a person who is a novice in an office context. The person has no experience of working in an office environment and just wants to know what’s expected of him on that job. 

He has a relationship with the rules to start with everything. He learns his theory because he has got no practical experience to refer and he can’t exercise discretion. Experience hasn’t given him any sense of what’s more important. So he can’t prioritize. So the next thing that somebody asks him to do he’s likely to do it. 

What does he see around him? he sees artefacts, he sees documents, reports, emails, etc. So he is very focused on his email inbox and marshalling and producing documents. He loves templates, it helps him produce good artefacts he thinks about.

Advanced Beginner

The second level is the level of the advanced beginner. At this level, the person is somewhat more experienced. Their conscious incompetence is high. The person has a relationship with the rules and the outputs. In other words, the delivery of what he is supposed to do. But he is got a very little appreciation of his context. 

His experience isn’t broad enough yet him to understand that there are different kinds of contexts. Everything he experiences still has a kind of normal feel to it. He values practice and process. He’s becoming very process-oriented. 

So sometimes he can become legalistic. Insisting that other people present work to him in the right way for him to continue the process. But still, he hasn’t learned how to prioritize from a great deal of experience still quite hard further.


This level though is interesting, this is the level of proficient. Here the person has a relationship with the outcome. He understands what a result is beyond just delivering something and he’s making connections with that. The proficient is beginning to see a rich variety of context from his experiences. 

He is also really thinking hard about what he can do to produce a better outcome. His danger is though that he is aware of his strengths. For example, he is beginning to make connections with his work and his passion. But he is less aware of his weaknesses. He is still thinking in a fairly limited systemic way.

He is aware of his involvement in an overall process. But here’s the thing he is now developing an ability to think outside of the process and observe himself. Sometimes to interrupt his mental narrative and be consciously self-aware of how he is feeling and thinking about a particular piece of work. This is a crucial learning point but it’s not the end of him developing his skill.


Skill Acquisition

The next level is the level of expert. Here let’s take the example of Erica, a nurse because observing nurses have a high order skill. They are looking for unusual patterns in different contexts. Erica brings a perspective on certain things that she is focusing on or in the foreground. 

She prioritizes them, she has got a much more systematic view of reality than the proficient has. Erica has a high degree of tolerance for volatility, uncertainty and some sense of complexity. As I have said they can respect the rules but they are prepared on occasions to break them for good reason. Erica has a high sense of flow. Now she understands and is aware when she is being productive and that systematic appreciation. 


The final level is the level of Master. Here we can take the persona of Mary. Mary is somebody who is got a high order skill, who is looking at the whole system. She has a relationship with vision. 

If a skill we have been looking at were for example project management Mary would have been elevated to either program director or portfolio director. She is looking right across the organisation. She values context over abstraction. Mary is showing high awareness, high adaptation, intuitive grasp of situations.

She is got a tolerance for complexity and ambiguity. Mary can recognize and pick up when certain evidence when everybody out there is making one interpretation. She is asking herself well what if the opposite is true.


Now what we notice in this article is that in many organisations whatever the skill is they put most of their investment in learning and development in moving the novice to the advance beginner. 

There are several reasons for this, its easy learning design. Because it’s about content less so from the advance beginner to the proficient. Because those require some design around practical implementation. 

But what we observe is that there’s very little in the way of learning and development solutions to move people from the proficient to the expert. One of the things that happen is that in organisations people who have got the potential to become experts or masters never actually really rise above that. Because they see very few examples of that or people think that they are good enough and move them on to the next thing. 

The ownership of learning and development shifts from the organisation owning the learning and development of the novice and advanced beginners to the experts and the masters owning their learning and development.

But there are a couple of general observations about the skill acquisition model. First is that we overvalue rules, knowledge and content in learning and development. We live in a rationalist age that does this constantly. It’s all about we know, It’s all about the stuff, very little about wisdom. So we undervalue emotional connection and practical experimentation.

Also You can Read our Blog on VAK Learning Styles – Discover Your Learning Style


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