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A Developmental Perspective - Exercise 1

Designed for The Developing Group - 4 October, 2003

In order to engage in the activity described below you will need to familiarise yourself with the Novice to Expert developmental model.  You can do so by absorbing the extracts from the Dreyfus' book below and reviewing the diagram of our adaptation given in the preamble (on Page 1).

Extracts from Hubert Dreyfus and Stuart Dreyfus' Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer.

Summary of 'Novice to Expert' model

Stage 1 - Novice

The novice learns to recognise various objective facts and features relevant to the skill and acquires rules for determining actions based on those facts and features.  We call such elements "context-free" and the rules that are to be applied to these facts regardless of what else is happening "context-free rules." 

Stage 2 - Advanced Beginner

Performance improves to a marginally acceptable level only after the novice has considerable experience in coping with real situations.  While that encourages the learner to consider more context-free facts and to use more sophisticated rules, it also teaches him a more important lesson involving an enlarged conception of the world of the skill.  How?  Thanks to a perceived similarity with prior examples.  We call the new elements "situational".  Rules for behaviour may now refer to both the new situational and context-free components.

Stage 3 - Competence

With more experience, the number of recognizable context-free and situational elements present in a real-world circumstance eventually becomes overwhelming.  To cope with such problems, people learn, or are taught, to adopt a hierarchical procedure of decision-making.  By first choosing a plan to organize the situation, and by examining only the small set of factors that are most important given the chosen plan a person can both simplify and improve his performance.

Choosing a plan is no simple matter for the competent individual.  There is no objective procedure like the novice's context-free feature recognition.  To perform at the competent level requires choosing an organizing plan.  Furthermore, the choice crucially affects behavior in a way that one particular situational element rarely does. 

Stage 4 - Proficiency

Usually the proficient performer will be deeply involved in his task and will be experiencing it from some specific perspective because of recent events.  Because of the performer's perspective, certain features of the situation will stand out as salient and others will recede into the background and be ignored.  As events modify the salient features, plans, expectations, and even the relative salience of features will gradually change.  No detached choice or deliberation occurs.  It just happens.

We call the ability to intuitively respond to patterns without decomposing them into component features "holistic discrimination and association".  When we speak of intuition or know-how, we are referring to the understanding that effortlessly occurs due to discriminations resulting from previous experiences.  We shall use "intuition" and "know-how" as synonymous.  Intuition or know-how, as we understand it, is neither wild guessing nor supernatural inspiration, but the sort of ability we all use all the time as we go about our everyday tasks.

The proficient performer, while intuitively organising and understanding his task, will still find himself thinking analytically about what to do.  Elements that present themselves as important, thanks to the performer's experience, will be assessed and combined by rule to produce decisions about how best to manipulate the environment.  The spell of involvement in the world of the skill will thus be temporarily broken. 

Stage 5 - Expertise

An expert generally knows what to do based on mature and practiced understanding.  When deeply involved in coping with his environment, he does not see problems in some detached way and work at solving them, nor does he worry about the future and devise plans.  When things are proceeding normally, experts don't solve problems and don't make decisions; they do what normally works. 

While most expert performance is ongoing and nonreflective, when time permits and outcomes are crucial, an expert will deliberate before acting.  This deliberation does not require calculative problem solving, but rather involves critically reflecting on one's intuitions.

Experience-based holistic discrimination/association produces deep situational understanding. ... Not only is a situation, when seen as similar to a prior one, understood, but the associated decision, action, or tactic simultaneously comes to mind.  An ability to discriminate an immense number of situations is produced by experience.  Such grouped situations bear no names and, in fact, seem to defy complete verbal description.  With expertise comes fluid performance.


- In pairs — 20 minutes each

Using a context in which the Focus has achieved Expert level:

1. The Focus places 5 sheets of paper representing the 5 levels/stages of the
    ‘Novice to Expert’ developmental model on the floor where they need to be.

2. The Focus stands at each level and describes:

        How do you know you are at that level?

    The Facilitator’s role is to ask clean questions that invite the Focus to self-model:

        • their knowing about being at that level
        • their sense of development through/across/over the levels.

  • There should a qualitatively different experience at each level.
  • The focus should not be self-modelling the context or the content, but the ‘knowing’ about the level of development.
  • In particular an embodied sense of, and metaphor for, their development through the levels.
3. swap roles

PART B  - In pairs [could be done nonverbally on your own]

1. Focus lays out sheets as before.

2. Focus chooses a context in which they have yet to achieve Expert level.

3. Focus starts at Novice and is facilitated to describe how they know they are at this level,
    in this context.

Repeat until the level is reached that corresponds to where they are now.

4. Using the knowledge from Exercise 1a (and in particular the metaphor for moving
    through the levels), Focus steps to the next level and describes:

-  What it will  be like when they can easily/naturally operate from this level?

-  What needs to happen for them to make the transition to this level?

5. Focus continues moving to each of the remaining levels to get a sense of what it will be
    like when they can operate from here.

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