Skill acquisition

Dreyfus and Dreyfus in 1986 described a model of skill acquisition. Their idea of skill was professionalism in action. This involves knowledge, the application of that knowledge and the decision making involved in the application. As an individual approaches expert those decisions become more intuitive, less easily understood at a cognitive level. They are less step-wise and more instinctive responses.

The Dreyfus model focuses on learning by experience, and the five levels, which describe skill acquisition, are:

  1. Novice
  2. Advanced beginner
  3. Competent
  4. Proficient
  5. Expert

These levels are described in Michael Eraut’s book, Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence.

Level 1: Novice
  • Rigid adherence to taught rules or plans
  • Little situational perception
  • No discretionary judgement
Level 2: Advanced beginner
  • Guidelines for action are based on attributes or aspects. (Aspects are global characteristics of situations that can be recognised only after some prior experience)
  • Situational perception is still limited
  • All attributes and aspects are treated separately and given equal importance
Level 3: Competent
  • Coping with crowdedness
  • Now sees actions at least partially in terms of longer-term goals
  • Conscious deliberate planning
  • Standardised and routinised procedures
Level 4: Proficient
  • See situations holistically rather than in terms of aspects
  • See what is most important in a situation
  • Perceives deviations from the normal pattern
  • Decision-making is less laboured
  • Uses maxims for guidance, whose meaning varies according to the situation (a maxim is a
  • Brief expression of a simple truth, a code of conduct)
Level 5: Expert
  • No longer relies on rules, guidelines or maxims
  • Intuitive grasp of situations based on deep tacit understanding
  • Analytic approaches are only used in novel situations or when a problem occurs
  • Vision of what is possible.


  • Michael Eraut, 1994, Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, page 124, The Falmer Press
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