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A Five Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition

WC 457 / RT 3min


Five-stage model of the mental activities

In acquiring a skill by means of instruction and experience, the student normally passes through five develop- mental stages which we designate novice, competence, proficiency, expertise and mastery.

As the student becomes skilled, he depends less on abstract principles and more on concrete experience.

Two options to pick a skill:

Erroneous information obtained by scientific methods (and therefore having an aura of truth) is more harmful than no information at all.

Stage 1: Novice

The instruction process begins by decomposing the task environment into context-free features which the beginner can recognize without benefit of experience - (non-institutional).

Beginner is then given rules for determining an action on the basis of these features.

Stage 2: Competence

Comes after considerable experience actually coping with real situations in which the student notes or an instructor points out recurrent meaningful component patterns. The situational components, in terms of which a competent student understands his environment, are no longer the context-free features user by the novice - (aspects). The brain-state correlated with the example being pointed out is organized and stored in such a way as to provide a basis for future recognition of similar aspects. Instructor can formulate principles dictating action in terms of these aspects - (guidelines).

Stage 3: Proficiency

Increased practise exposes the performer to a wide variety of typical whole situations. The brain-state correlated with the performer’s experiencing a whole situation from a particular perspective is organized and stored in such a way as to provide a basis for future recognition of similar situations viewed from similar perspectives.

Stage 4: Expertise

Expert performer in a particular task environment has reached the final stage in the step-wise improvement of mental processing. Up to this stage, the performer needed some sort of analytical principle (rule, guidelines, maxim) to connect his grasp of the general situation to a specific action. Now his repertoire of experienced situations is so vast that normally each specific situation immediately dictates an intuitively appropriate action.

Stage 5: Mastery

Expert is capable of experiencing moments of intense absorption in his work, during which his performance transcends even its usual high level. Masterful performance only takes place when the expert, who no longer needs principles, can cease to play concious attention to his performance and can let all the mental energy previously used in monitoring his performance go into production almost instantaneously the appropriate perspective and its associated action.

Mental function / Skill level Novice Competent Proficient Expert Master
Recollection Non-situational Situational Situational Situational Situational
Recognition Decomposed Decomposed Holistic Holistic Holistic
Decision Analytical Analytical Analytical Intuitive Intuitive
Awareness Monitoring Monitoring Monitoring Monitoring Absorbed

Notes