Skills Mastery

You go through a series of stages when learning a new skill. Let’s  look at these stages, covering both the characteristics and the implications of each stage. It is helpful to understand a framework for skill levels, what level you are at – and what level the other members of your team are at.

One powerful model for this is the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition. The Dreyfus Model has been used in a variety of professional settings, including nursing.

Several researchers suggest that it takes roughly 10 years and 10,000 hours of intensive effort to become an expert in a subject. This isn’t just 10 year of experience – it is 10 years of applied, concentrated, progressively more difficult study and practice of the subject. The classic “one year of experience repeated 10 times” will not lead you to mastery. They also estimate that less than 5% of people master even a single subject, much less multiple subjects.

The good news is that many of the skills necessary for achieving mastery of a subject are learned while you are working to master your first subject, and it is then easier and faster to master additional subjects.

An excellent book for understanding how you think and learn – and how to do it better – is Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt. I have been heavily influenced by this book, and enthusiastically recommend it. It is worthwhile checking out Andy’s website at  www.toolshed.com.

Stages of Skills Mastery (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

In the fields of education and operations research, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a model of how students acquire skills through formal instruction and practicing. The model proposes that a student passes through five distinct stages: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.

In the novice stage, a person follows rules as given, without context, with no sense of responsibility beyond following the rules exactly. Competence develops when the individual develops organizing principles to quickly access the particular rules that are relevant to the specific task at hand; hence, competence is characterized by active decision making in choosing a course of action. Proficiency is shown by individuals who develop intuition to guide their decisions and devise their own rules to formulate plans. The progression is thus from rigid adherence to rules to an intuitive mode of reasoning based on tacit knowledge.

Michael Eraut summarized the five stages of increasing skill as follows:

1. Novice

  • “rigid adherence to taught rules or plans”
  • no exercise of “discretionary judgment”

2. Advanced beginner

  • limited “situational perception”
  • all aspects of work treated separately with equal importance

3. Competent

  • “coping with crowdedness” (multiple activities, accumulation of information)
  • some perception of actions in relation to goals
  • deliberate planning
  • formulates routines

4. Proficient

  • holistic view of situation
  • prioritizes importance of aspects
  • “perceives deviations from the normal pattern”
  • employs maxims for guidance, with meanings that adapt to the situation at hand

5. Expert

  • transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims
  • “intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding” has “vision of what is possible” uses “analytical approaches” in new situations or in case of problems

About Russell Doty

A technology strategist and product manager at Red Hat, working on the next generation of open source systems.
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One Response to Skills Mastery

  1. Pingback: The Road to Subject Mastery

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