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Dreyfus model of skill acquisition

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The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a model of how learners acquire skills through formal instruction and practicing, used in the fields of education and operations research. Brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus proposed the model in 1980 in an 18-page report on their research at the University of California, Berkeley, Operations Research Center for the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research.[1] A more recent articulation[2] is available in 2005 issue of Organization studies.The model proposes that a student passes through five distinct stages, originally described as: novice, competence, proficiency, expertise, and mastery.

Dreyfus model


The Dreyfus model is based on four binary qualities:

  • Recollection (non-situational or situational)
  • Recognition (decomposed or holistic)
  • Decision (analytical or intuitive)
  • Awareness (monitoring or absorbed)

The original model included mastery as the last stage. In the book Mind over Machine, this was slightly adjusted to end with Expertise.[3] This leads to the full five-stage process:

Skill Level/ Mental Function Novice Advanced Beginner Competent Proficient Expert
Recollection Non-Situational Situational
Recognition Decomposed Holistic
Decision Analytical Intuitive
Awareness Monitoring Absorbed

Criticism of the model


A criticism of Dreyfus and Dreyfus's model has been provided by Gobet and Chassy,[4][5] who also propose an alternative theory of intuition. According to these authors, there is no empirical evidence for the presence of stages in the development of expertise. In addition, while the model argues that analytic thinking does not play any role with experts, who act only intuitively, there is much evidence that experts in fact often carry out relatively slow problem-solving (e.g. look-ahead search in chess).

However, the above criticisms are based on a partial reading of the published record.[6][7] For example, the criticisms fail to take into account the notion of the “deliberative rationality” of experts, which is a kind of expert reflection in action, as developed in Dreyfus and Dreyfus, Mind Over Machine.[8]

In turn, the challenge posed by look-ahead search in chess is addressed within the scope of the skill model in a 1982 article by Stuart Dreyfus.[9] With respect to the question of experts calculating into the future, Dreyfus argues that chess is not a suitable example from which to generalize about skillful action at large: “The DeGroot reference to the well-known practice of the chess player of calculating out into the future should not be interpreted as evidence that skilled decision-makers in other domains do likewise. This examination of possible futures becomes feasible in chess because the objective and complete nature of a chess position makes a future position as intuitively meaningful as a present one”(p.151).[9]

See also



  1. ^ Dreyfus, Stuart E.; Dreyfus, Hubert L. (February 1980). "A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition" (PDF). Washington, DC: Storming Media. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 16, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2010.
  2. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert L.; Dreyfus, Stuart E (2005). "Peripheral vision: Expertise in real world contexts". Organization studies. 26 (5): 779–792.
  3. ^ Dreyfus, Stuart E.; Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1986). Mind over Machine. New York, NY: Free Press.
  4. ^ Gobet. F. & Chassy, P. (2008). Towards an alternative to Benner’s theory of expert intuition in nursing: A discussion paper. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 45, 129-139.
  5. ^ Gobet. F. & Chassy, P. (2009). Expertise and intuition: A tale of three theories. Minds and Machines, 19, 151-180.
  6. ^ Dreyfus, Stuart; Rousse, B. Scot (2018). "Commentary on Fernand Gobet's (2018) "The Future of Expertise: The Need for a Multidisciplinary Approach"" (PDF). Journal of Expertise. 1: 181–183.
  7. ^ Dreyfus, Stuart (2014). "System 0: The Overlooked Explanation of Expert Intuition". Handbook of Research Methods on Intuition, ed. M. Sinclair. 1: 15–27.
  8. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert; Dreyfus, Stuart (1988). Mind Over Machine (Second ed.). New York: Free Press. pp. 36–51.
  9. ^ a b Dreyfus, Stuart (1982). "Formal Models vs. Human Situational Understanding:Inherent Limitations on the Modeling of Business Expertise". Office: Technology and People. 1 (2/3): 133–165. doi:10.1108/eb022609.

Further reading