The Five Dreyfus Model Stages

In the 1970s, the brothers Dreyfus (Hubert and Stuart) began doing their seminal research on how people attain and master skills.

The following are the five stages on the journey from novice to expert.

Novices (or beginners)

Novices, by definition, have little or no previous experience in this skill area. By “experience,” I mean specifically that performing this skill results in a change of thinking. As a counterexample, consider the case of the developer who claims ten years of experience, but in reality it was one year of experience repeated nine times. That doesn’t count as experience.

Novices need recipes

Advanced Beginners

Once past the hurdles of the novice, one begins to see the problems from the viewpoint of the advanced beginner. Advanced beginners can start to break away from the fixed rule set a little bit. They can try tasks on their own, but they still have difficulty troubleshooting.

Advanced beginners can start using advice in the correct context, based on similar situations they’ve experienced in the recent past but just barely.

Advanced beginners don’t want the big picture


At the third stage, practitioners can now develop conceptual models of the problem domain and work with those models effectively. They can troubleshoot problems on their own and begin to figure out how to solve problems—ones they haven’t faced before. They can begin to seek out and apply advice from experts and use it effectively.

You might see folks at this level typically described as “having initiative” and being “resourceful.” They tend to be in a leadership role in the team (whether it’s formal or not). – See Teaching and Learning Generic Skills for the Workplace [SMLR90].

Competents can troubleshoot.


Proficient practitioners need the big picture. They will seek out and want to understand the larger conceptual framework around this skill. They will be very frustrated by oversimplified information.

Proficient practitioners make a major breakthrough on the Dreyfus model: they can correct previous poor task performance. They can reflect on how they’ve done and revise their approach to perform better the next time.

Proficient practitioners can self-correct.


Experts are the primary sources of knowledge and information in any field. They are the ones who continually look for better methods and better ways of doing things. They have a vast body of experience that they can tap into and apply in just the right context. These are the folks who write the books, write the articles, and do the lecture circuit.

These are the modern wizards. Statistically, there aren’t very many experts—probably something on the order of 1 to 5 percent of the population –See Standards for Online Communication [HS97].

Experts work from intuition.

Want more?

Are you a software developer and interested on how we learn and also learn how to learn? I’d recommend you the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

* Dreyfus content captured from chapter 2.