Dreyfus Skill Acquisition Model

Original author: Bruce Abernethy
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So, this post will be a bit “hasty”, which is not surprising for Saturday morning (the original article was published on August 18, 2007. approx.), but I want to refer to this topic in one work, which I am going to do this fall. I plan to work fruitfully: to create several resources with links on the Internet that will help children in creating their first projects, as well as in teaching subjects such as physics, space physics and robotics / electronics. If you know me, then you know that I studied these things for quite some time. The problem in the process of teaching these subjects in our time is that they are too abstract and often limited to the theory of "on paper". To study these subjects at a level higher than just knowing trivial things and facts, you must truly “engage” in science, and not just “read” about them.

There are several articles and models that seriously influenced my attitude to some things, turned my mind around the approach to studying these things. I will touch on each of them individually, and then I will collect the accumulated knowledge together and describe the approach that I am going to try. None of these articles or ideas will be a revelation to anyone, but they make an impression when you read them. The authors have done a great job and described the subject as deeply and in detail as I can never.

The first such article and model is the Dreyfus model, which was originally based on a report by Hubert Dreyfus and Stuart Dreyfus of the early 80s, entitled “The Five-Stage Model of Mental Activity Involved in a Price-Oriented Acquisition of Skills” (A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition ). You can go over it with your eyes.

This work was originally prepared for the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research to train pilots, but its structure and goals can be effectively used to train any person: nurses, chess players, people learning foreign languages ​​and even programmers (google “Dreyfus model” and you will see many different results of its application (and a few arguments against its use)). I like it, so I'm going to use it.

In a few words, Dreyfus identifies five to seven stages of learning a new skill or exploring an area:

  • Newbie
  • Continuing
  • Competent
  • Specialist
  • Expert and
  • Master

I don’t know how about you, but I often hear how many people use the terms “Competent” or “Expert” when describing their own skills, without an objective model, on the basis of which they could put themselves in this or that category. Some people begin to consider themselves competent in a particular field after reading just one book. Others call themselves experts after the completion of one project using a specific skill or technology. It reminds me of one episode from "Monk" ( detective series. Approx. Per.), in which detective Adrian Monk is sailing on a boat, and someone asks him if he can swim. He replies that he knows how to swim and even takes out a certificate from his wallet certifying that he is a swimmer (from correspondence courses), but he immediately admits that he was never really in the water and never applied his skills, but he believes that he will do quite well. Some people go this way in the study of various subjects and technologies that they studied in books and on the Internet, but they never really “did” real things, never used what they learned. You learn by doing things, you do not learn (and cannot learn) before you do anything.

This model does two important things: (1) it helps to better define what each of the stages of training means, and (2) explains the principle of a person’s transition from one category to another.

Briefly about the stages :

Beginner A

beginner always follows the rules - specific rules, in any situation, in any situation. You do not need to "think", you just need to "do". The rules are unshakable and should never be broken. The main thing at this stage is to gain experience by following the instructions and working on a new skill. You can follow the recipe on the box with the cake and probably make a decent cake. All you are responsible for is following the instructions.

“For a beginner to develop, external control or self-control is required so that his actions comply with the rules as much as possible”


Rules are still the foundation, but they are beginning to take on a situational character. In one situation, you adhere to one rule, in another situation - another. The follower must be able to selectively apply various rules. So if you want a chocolate cake, follow the chocolate instructions. If you want a vanilla cake, follow other instructions. If you are taller than 5,000 feet, you will need to change the amount of some ingredients. This is still a recipe, but it has several variations. Again, follow the various “options” instructions and everything will be okay. Despite the fact that everything quite easily can again turn into a huge category of Beginner, this is a significant step towards Competence.


You realize that the skills or area you are learning is more than just a set of rules and their variations. You begin to see models and principles (or aspects ), rather than a separate set of rules - the rules become less strict. You rely more on your experience and active decision making than on strict adherence to the rules. At this stage, guidelines are being formed .which will help you a lot on a higher level. Now you are responsible for your decisions, unlike the previous steps, in which you strictly followed the rules. You made a lot of cakes and have some recipes. When you are asked to make a new type of cake, you will take advantage of your experience and make it. If the new cake doesn’t come out, only you are responsible. This is a critical and turning point for the majority of people with some skill, and also the reason why most people will never truly become “competent” in the things they learn. Here you either decide simply to “follow the rules”, or completely immerse yourself in the subject of study and learn to take responsibility.

“Competence comes only after considerable experience in real situations.”


At this stage, understanding your skill or area of ​​study becomes more instinctive and intuitive . You will do things that seem true to you (and very often you will be right). Instead of a discrete set of different parts, you can perceive a whole system. Great experience in solving real problems will show you that most often there are several competing solutions to a particular problem and you have a “sixth sense” that will tell you the right way. “Calculation and rational analysis seem to melt before our eyes.” You quickly understand what needs to be done and immediately formulate how to achieve this.

Professionalism develops as a result of the impact of " wide variability of the most typical situations ."


At this stage, when solving problems, you do not think about the algorithm for doing the work, you just “do”, and it works. “Optimum performance becomes your second nature.” People may ask you why you decided to choose this particular way of solving the problem, and you won’t know how to explain it to them, how to divide your path from A to B into 10 steps, when for you it is only one step. The request to the Expert to describe in detail the course of solving the problem, before he began to work on it, it may lead him into confusion. Here you are like a grandmother getting up at 6 in the morning and making cookies for many, many years. She does not think about the amount of baking or the baking time, yes, maybe she does not think about it at all - she just does it, and it works. Very few people can achieve a similar level in a particular skill.

The Expert’s experience “is so great that each specific situation immediately dictates to him on an intuitive level the required actions”.


Mastery is mainly expressed in style. In some ways, the Master is simply “Expert in Impact”. I think you could spend time with someone who is really very good at something, he is so immersed in the work that you cannot help but feel that you are watching the work of a real genius. I would also call the Master Expert, who can look back and take the Beginner’s place, create rules, control / instruct beginners, helping them move forward. If you have ever met a Master, you remember him - by name - they are rare, and it would be very useful for you to spend as much time with them as possible. An expert in basketball can have a brilliant performance and without hesitation get into the ring over and over again. But Michael Jordan will do it with such style, grace, ease and neglect of the laws of physics,

The master "is able to survive moments of complete immersion in work, during which his performance exceeds even the usual high level."


Thank you for reading so much, now I will finally touch on the essence of the problem (after 1000+ words) - I believe that in the vast majority of subjects people today reach only the level of “Continuing”. It is unpleasant that this increasingly concerns science, mathematics and technology. If you know enough to “pass the test”, then that’s all you need. The normative act “Do not abandon children” ( No Child Left Behind) was designed to teach people the responsibility of learning. But instead of students who may become Competent or even Specialists in some field, we have created a system in which students are stuck at the Continuing level in a variety of subjects and may not be able to move forward. We teach children that it’s enough to “know” about things, but never really “engage” in them.

So what can we do about it? We need to create a resource catalog that will help children go from Beginner to Competent in science, mathematics and technology - things that will give them activity in developing projects and creating the connections that are so necessary to move forward. A challenging but achievable goal. Many people see such problems and try to solve them. Collaboration with them will be the key to our success.

More on this later ...


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