📖The Five-Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition

Dreyfus, Stuart E.
  • this is a follow-up from Dreyfus & Dreyfus1980, and first appeared as a chapter in Dreyfus1986
  • this renames stages from Dreyfus & Dreyfus1980 to end with Expert
  • at stage 3 (Competence),

    With more experience, the number of potentially relevant elements and procedures that the learner is able to recognize and follow becomes overwhelming. At this point, because a sense of what is important in any particular situation is missing, performance becomes nerve-wracking and exhausting, and the student might well wonder how anybody ever masters the skill.

    solution: learn which situations are more important then others, what can be safely ignored

    As students learn to restrict themselves to only a few of the vast number of possibly relevant features and aspects, understanding and decision making becomes easier.

    • at this stage, the student feels responsible for their choice (on previous stages, the burden is shifted on inadequate rules)
    • at this stage, success/failure bring much more emotions (because you’re not completely sure whether your choice will work)
    • unless you stay emotionally engaged (lifted on success and remorse of mistakes), you won’t progress and will eventually burn out trying to deal with all features, aspects, rules, and maxims. (Patricia Benner, 1984 — study of nurses)
    • “if one seeks the safety of rules, one will not get beyond competence. […] experiencing deeply felt reward or remorse seems to be necessary for the performer to learn from examples without rules.”
  • stage 4, proficiency

    • at this stage, the choice of goal and aspects to focus on are obvious, but what to do is not. the performer simply didn’t have enough experience to answer each situation. must still decide what to do
    • (as you progress through the stages, theoretical knowledge “breaks”—you’re literally past the limit of theories)
  • stage 5, expert

    • knows both goal and immediately knows what to do
    • makes more subtle and refined discriminations than proficient performer
    • grandmaster chess players can distinguish ~100,000 types of positions and can play at rate of 5–10 seconds per move
    • in amateur and expert players, different brain parts are active

The tradition has given an accurate description of the beginner and of the expert facing an unfamiliar situation, but normally an expert does not calculate. He or she does not solve problems. He or she does not even think. He or she just does what normally works and, of course, it normally works.


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