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The five levels of skill acquisition, Novice, beginner, competent, master, and expert

The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert The five levels of skill acquisition

Stages : Novice, Advanced beginner, competent, master, and expert
Pick an activity that can makes you healthier, wealthier or wiser.

-  1000 hours to become competent in a subject
-  3000 hours to become a master in a subject
- 10000 hours to become a world expert in a field

ref :

Online business expert   (3h)
Finance & trading expert (2h)
Piano master                    (2h)
Health Competent
Family & Relationship Master
Wisdom / Life Expert ???

1    h/ day            
300    h/ year    (300 learning days in a year)        
Competent    (1 000 h)    in     3,3       years
Master    (3 000 h)    in     10,0       years
Expert    (10 000 h)    in     33,3       years

2    h/ day            
600    h/ year    (300 learning days in a year)        
Competent    (1 000 h)    in     1,7       years
Master    (3 000 h)    in     5,0       years
Expert    (10 000 h)    in     16,7       years

3    h/ day            
900    h/ year    (300 learning days in a year)        
Competent    (1 000 h)    in     1,1       years
Master    (3 000 h)    in     3,3       years
Expert    (10 000 h)    in     11,1       years

4    h/ day            
1200    h/ year    (300 learning days in a year)        
Competent    (1 000 h)    in     0,8       years
Master    (3 000 h)    in     2,5       years
Expert    (10 000 h)    in     8,3       years

The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert

The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert


The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert


Going from Being A Novice To A Master
by admin

I came across this wonderful paper by Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus titled, A Five-Stage Model of The Mental Activities Involved In Direct Skill Acquisition. The article discusses the 5 different levels of expertise in skill acquisition with the novice being the lowest level and Mastery the highest. The 5 levels are:
Novice -> Competency -> Proficiency -> Expert -> Master.



Below is a brief description of the different levels:

A novice is all about following rules - specific rules, without context or modification. You don’t need to "think" you just need to "do". A rule is absolute, and must never be violated. The main thing to do here is to get experience following directions and doing the new skill. You can follow the instructions on a box of cake mix and hopefully produce a decent cake. All you are responsible for is following directions.

"To improve, the novice needs monitoring, either by self-observation or instructional feedback, so as to bring his behavior more and more completely into conformity with the rule."

Advanced Beginner
Still rules based, but rules start to have situational conditions. In one situation you use one rule, in other situations you use another. The advanced beginner needs to be able to identify the limited need to selectively apply different rules. So if you want a chocolate cake, follow the chocolate rule(s), if you want a vanilla cake, follow the other rule(s). If you are over 5,000ft of altitude you will need to alter the amount of some ingredients. This is still a recipe, but has a few decision points. Again, follow the different "branches" of instructions and you should be fine. It is easy to see how this could collapse into a large Novice category, but it is a step before the much larger step to Competence.

You realize that your skill or domain is more complex than a series of rules and branches. You start to see patterns and principles (or aspects) rather than a discrete set of rules - rules become "rules of thumb". You are lead more by your experience and active decision-making than by strictly following rules. What is developed now are guidelines that help direct competent individuals at a higher level. You now are accountable for your decisions as you are not following the strict rules and context of the previous stages. You’ve made a lot of cakes and have a number of recipes. When asked to make a cake of a different type you pull from experience the best way to put a new cake together. If the new cake doesn’t work out, you are responsible. This is the critical tipping point for most people when learning a new skill - and why most people never really become "competent" in most things they learn. Here you either need to decide to just "follow the rules" or spend the time to get fully involved with and take responsibility.

"Competence comes only after considerable experience actually coping with real situations …"

At this point your understanding of your skill or domain has become more of an instinct or intuition. You will do and try things because it just seems like the right thing to do (and you will most often be right). Instead of a discrete set of different parts you can perceive a complete system. A large amount of real-world experience will show you that there are often multiple competing solutions to a specific problem and you have a "gut feeling" about which is correct. "Calculation and rational analysis seem to disappear". Will quickly know "what" needs to be done and then formulate how to do it.
Proficiency is developed by exposure to a "wide variety of typical whole situations."

At this point you are not solving problems or making conscious decisions about things, you just "do" and it works. "Optimal performance becomes second nature." People may ask you why you decided to do things "that way" and you may not know how to explain to them the 10 steps necessary to get from "A" to "B" because to you it was really just one step. Forcing an expert to detail the steps necessary before proceeding will often cause them to fail or second-guess. Here you think of grandma getting up at 6:00am and making biscuits from scratch for many, many years. She doesn’t measure, time, or probably even think about baking - she just does it, and it works. Very few people will attain this level in a particular skill or domain. Some estimates say 10-15 years in a particular area is required.

An Expert has experience that "is so vast that normally each specific situation immediately dictates an intuitively appropriate action."

Mastery is mostly about style. A Master of something is really just an "Expert on a roll." Sometimes you may have witnessed someone or spent time with someone who is so good at something, and gets so caught up in doing it, that you can’t help but feel that you are watching a genius at work. I’d also say a Master is an Expert who can look back and put themselves in a Novice’s shoes and create the rules, and do the monitoring/mentoring necessary to help them move forward. If you have met a Master you remember them - by name - they are rare and you would do well to spend as much time with them as possible. An Expert basketball player could be excellent at execution and without formal thought just picture the ball going through the hoop (and it does). But Michael Jordan could do it with such style, grace and physics-defying ease that you just had to stop everything and watch him when he was "in the groove."

A Master "is capable of experiencing moments of intense absorption in his work, during which his performance transcends even its usual high level."

The good thing about it is that we can always grow from one level to another. It is a good measure of our level of expertise and will help one not overrate himself.

So what level are you?





Lessons from the Dreyfus Model


How can we use the Dreyfus model in everyday life? Find below some key takeaways and ideas that speak most loudly to me. (I’m sure there are many others — feel free to contribute in the comments!)


* Make skills acquisition as productive as possible. This is true both for individuals as well as for teams. By having a better idea of your skill level, you’re able to give yourself (or others in your team) exactly what’s needed at that particular level. If you want novices to operate at their best, they will need unambiguous rules. On the other hand, bothering the experts with intricate rules and policies is a recipe for frustration and bringing their performance down. We want to avoid ‘racing sheep and herding horses’.

* Use it as a standard guidance and assessment framework. The Dreyfus model gives us a no-nonsense way to assess and compare skill levels in many contexts. We could use it to design better learning materials and courses, or salary ladders based strictly on skill level. Granted, the model is not 100% objective, but it’s much better than many ‘fluffy’ assessment tools I’ve seen around.

* Pair up mentors and apprentices effectively. I’ve seen a big misconception many times, which is that the better you are at a skill the better mentor you’ll be. Not at all! In fact, experts can be the worst possible mentors, as they may lack the language (not to mention the patience) to deal with novices. It’s usually better to pair up people who are not more than two levels apart. That way, the mentor has significantly more experience than the apprentice, and can also hark back to the time he was an apprentice himself.

Ref :





Using the Dreyfus Model to engage people in your Online Learning program

The success of your Knowledge Management or online learning initiative depends on how well you can engage different people in your organization and really, how apt is your mode of delivery, to the content you're delivering. Very simply, the purpose of any online learning/ knowledge sharing implementation is to make capabilities explicit in an organization. I've been thinking about this recently and I think the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition is a great way to articulate the different levels of expertise in a certain area, in an organization. If we use the Dreyfus model to map out our learning strategy, it quickly illuminates the different mechanisms we need to provide, so that people can participate in your learning program.

The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert

Mechanisms to engage various Dreyfus personas


A novice is someone who needs strict rules to follow clearly. They need monitoring to accomplish immediate tasks and unambiguous instructions to succeed. Some of the tools and resources that can help a novice are:


* Checklists

* How-to's

* Focussed elearning for specific job actions

* Ability to seek out help and mentorship


Advanced Beginner

For an advanced beginner, rules start to often become guidelines and they can start to apply these guidelines in similar contexts. Most new beginners tend to start here. The advanced beginner is keen to start new things, though they struggle with troubleshooting. They are therefore still focussed on their immediate tasks and aren't so fussed about the "big picture". I believe that an Advanced beginner needs a safe environment to try new things. Some of the following tools can be useful:


* Controlled Simulations

* Virtual Worlds to try out things in safety

* Mailing Lists/ Social QnA and Communities to ask questions and find solutions to common problems.

* Online Assignments to practice their new found skills.



People at this level tend to build conceptual models to organize complex rules. They can often go a step beyond the Advanced beginner and troubleshoot issues. Most importantly, they like to plan their work, make decisions and take responsibility for their outcomes. A competent practitioner probably needs some of the following tools:


* Case Studies to help them understand various real world scenarios.

* The ability to participate on Forums and social platforms to "listen into" real problems and solutions

* Access to blogs documenting peer experiences.

* Podcasts and media that help them see work patterns and various applications of their skills.

* And of course, all the experience they can get from their day job, helps!


Most elearning and knowledge sharing gigs tend to ignore the last two levels of the Dreyfus Model. OTOH, its imperative to involve people at these last two levels if a learning initiative has to be successful.


Proficient practitioners tend to look at problems as a whole, than in terms of individual aspects. They need the big picture, and like to gain practical knowledge from unhindered experimentation. Oversimplification, rules, policies and guidelines frustrate them. Given that they already have sufficient mastery over skills, I believe that Proficient practitioners need the opportunity to connect with other practitioners at a similar stage of learning/ skill acquisition. People at this stage are looking to create their own models and frameworks to apply their skills. So, connecting with their peers identifying problems - defining solutions, using their experiences and that of others to adjust their performance is a learning need for these individuals. Social networking is a core tool to involve such individuals. Being able to mentor others only broadens their skills and helps them on their learning journey. I look at proficient individuals a community leaders, virtual facilitators and content contributors. Using their frameworks and models creates standard work for the rest of the organization. They need to have ownership for courses, communities and mailing lists.


Experts are as the name suggests, masters of their trade. They intuitively solve problems without much analysis and planning. They've had enough experience in identifying problem patterns and applying generalities to solve these problems. The trouble is, that experts have trouble articulating many of their conclusions. That said, experts need to expand their knowledge and experience by evaluating boundary cases. Despite the fact that a few of these people can tend to be lurkers on most mailing lists and communities, I feel facilitative leaders should call out their opinions during discussions and debates online. In fact they're a great resource for content creation. Think standard work analysis, interviews, experience reports! Experts may not be such great teachers, but great role models -- so its exciting to hear from them, see them work. Its important to tap into them as great resources!


Finding the right mechanisms to share knowledge

I find it strange that training managers and instructional designers in particular get married to a certain mechanism. In fact, I've seen instructional designers stuck to elearning as if its the only technology available to us in this world. I look at content as a function of two parameters -- criticality of content and the duration of its shelf life. This helps justify the cost of creating content and justify community involvement in its creation. I've drawn out a 2 x 2 matrix to map out various tools depending on the criticality and shelf-life of the content.

The five levels of skill acquisition Novice beginner competent master and expert


The interesting thing to notice is that Elearning (Rapid or not) fits in three separate slots of the matrix. Its important to note that Rapid elearning (not traditional elearning called "rapid") fits in two of these slots. This is the kind of learning where I wouldn't recommend spending any more than 40 hours behind each hour of online engagement. I recommend traditional high cost elearning only in certain situations - rapid elearning fits most content and its important to weigh the cost of production with the actual value of the content.


Thinking through your Dreyfus personas and the right knowledge sharing mechanisms ensures that you create the right mix of elearning/ knowledge sharing mechanisms for your customers. Use these liberally to define an instructional strategy for your customers - hope you find this useful.

Ref :


Benner's Stages of Clinical Competence - Benner's Application to Nursing of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition:

The Dreyfus model posits that in the acquisition and development of a skill, a student passes through five levels of proficiency: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. These different levels reflect changes in three general aspects of skilled performance:

1. One is a movement from reliance on abstract principles to the use of past concrete experience as paradigms.
2. The second is a change in the learner's perception of the demand situation, in which the situation is seen less and less as a compilation of equally relevant bits, and more and more as a complete whole in which only certain parts are relevant.
3. The third is a passage from detached observation to involved performer. The performer no longer stands outside the situation but is now engaged in the situation.

Think of your own areas of experience in nursing. Rate your areas of nursing on an "expertise scale" of 1 to 5, with 1 being "novice" and 5 being "expert" according to the descriptions below:

* Stage 1: Novice

Beginners have had no experience of the situations in which they are expected to perform. Novices are taught rules to help them perform. The rules are context-free and independent of specific cases; hence the rules tend to be applied universally. The rule-governed behavior typical of the novice is extremely limited and inflexible. As such, novices have no "life experience" in the application of rules.
"Just tell me what I need to do and I'll do it."

* Stage 2: Advanced Beginner

Advanced beginners are those who can demonstrate marginally acceptable performance, those who have coped with enough real situations to note, or to have pointed out to them by a mentor, the recurring meaningful situational components. These components require prior experience in actual situations for recognition. Principles to guide actions begin to be formulated. The principles are based on experience.

* Stage 3: Competent

Competence, typified by the nurse who has been on the job in the same or similar situations two or three years, develops when the nurse begins to see his or her actions in terms of long-range goals or plans of which he or she is consciously aware. For the competent nurse, a plan establishes a perspective, and the plan is based on considerable conscious, abstract, analytic contemplation of the problem. The conscious, deliberate planning that is characteristic of this skill level helps achieve efficiency and organization. The competent nurse lacks the speed and flexibility of the proficient nurse but does have a feeling of mastery and the ability to cope with and manage the many contingencies of clinical nursing. The competent person does not yet have enough experience to recognize a situation in terms of an overall picture or in terms of which aspects are most salient, most important.

* Stage 4: Proficient

The proficient performer perceives situations as wholes rather than in terms of chopped up parts or aspects, and performance is guided by maxims. Proficient nurses understand a situation as a whole because they perceive its meaning in terms of long-term goals. The proficient nurse learns from experience what typical events to expect in a given situation and how plans need to be modified in response to these events. The proficient nurse can now recognize when the expected normal picture does not materialize. This holistic understanding improves the proficient nurse's decision making; it becomes less labored because the nurse now has a perspective on which of the many existing attributes and aspects in the present situation are the important ones. The proficient nurse uses maxims as guides which reflect what would appear to the competent or novice performer as unintelligible nuances of the situation; they can mean one thing at one time and quite another thing later. Once one has a deep understanding of the situation overall, however, the maxim provides direction as to what must be taken into account. Maxims reflect nuances of the situation.

* Stage 5: The Expert

The expert performer no longer relies on an analytic principle (rule, guideline, maxim) to connect her or his understanding of the situation to an appropriate action. The expert nurse, with an enormous background of experience, now has an intuitive grasp of each situation and zeroes in on the accurate region of the problem without wasteful consideration of a large range of unfruitful, alternative diagnoses and solutions. The expert operates from a deep understanding of the total situation. The chess master, for instance, when asked why he or she made a particularly masterful move, will just say: "Because it felt right; it looked good." The performer is no longer aware of features and rules;' his/her performance becomes fluid and flexible and highly proficient. This is not to say that the expert never uses analytic tools. Highly skilled analytic ability is necessary for those situations with which the nurse has had no previous experience. Analytic tools are also necessary for those times when the expert gets a wrong grasp of the situation and then finds that events and behaviors are not occurring as expected When alternative perspectives are not available to the clinician, the only way out of a wrong grasp of the problem is by using analytic problem solving.

[Reference: Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley, pp. 13-34.]

ref :

Categories : Life purpose    Themes : Wisdom Learning
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