Using the Spine Model to inform your path to guide your learning

Combining the Spine Model and the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition can provide some useful insights into how to lean new skills

This post assumes you are already familiar with the Spine Model

An second point to make is that the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition is a per-skill model, not a per-person model. You might be a Novice bicycle rider, but a Expert car driver, and you would see different dynamics in play when you are applying those different skills…


Using a Spine to map the skills you are trying to learn

A sign that you are reaching a level of expertise in a skill, as per the dreyfus model, is that you have developed a meta-cognitive ability around it - the ability to think about your thinking. This means that you should be able to write down the new skill and then draw a spine map for it, in the context you are using it for.

Using a Spine to map the learning process itself

Whilst you are learning a particular skill you can apply the model directly to that process. You can put “Learn skill X” as your Need, and then decide what you should Value in order to achieve that, what Principles will be important on the journey and so on.

Using a Spine to guide others

When it comes to guiding others, it is useful to look at a specific aspect of the Dreyfus Model, “Basis for Action”, and how that changes on the journey from Novice to Expert…


As you can see from the model, as a person progresses from Novice to Expert for a given skill or set of skills, their basis for taking action shifts from needing rules and routines to reading the context and responding intuitively.

If we embrace this we can create a safe space for people to master skills, and also not constrain them once they have by being explicit about Practices and Tools in the beginning, but always attaching them to higher Principles. Over time you can allow for more exploration, as long as the Principles are held:

Novice to Advanced Beginner

If you are guiding Novices, you should provide them with enough rules at a Practices and Tools level in order for them to take appropriate action. These rules must still be linked to Principles and Values that meet Needs. Doing this will enable their more rapid progression on the Novice to Master spectrum.

Competent and above

As a person has progressed on the spectrum they will start to feel constrained by those same rules that they required as a Novice. At this time, [heuristics] based on Principles are a more appropriate way of creating directive boundaries and enabling constraints. Failing to make the switch from rules to heuristics will limit peoples progression on the spectrum, aside from causing them frustration.

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