Learning Process Models & Implications for Design

Hubert Dreyfus; author of Mind over Machine, 86’ and What Computers Can’t Do, 92’ is best known for his model of the five different levels of skills acquisition. The key part of this model that I think will be useful to know for my own research, is in the breakdown of what it means to be a ‘novice’ and an ‘expert’. Dreyfus acknowledged two different cognitive approaches used between a novice and an expert when they both accomplish the same task:


An expert is able to work from intuition and can differentiate between irrelevant and important details. In contrast, a novice will work towards achieving a very specific goal, and is less interested in learning. Dreyfus’ model shows how a novice in any skill can get stuck on the unexpected, and requires context free rules to follow.

I think it is very important that I am aware of these two different learning processes and approaches to tasks, because these factors have implications for my project which deals with community members who have less experience in modern technology, and are therefore novices at the skills required to access and use digital services. It means that any service scenarios/prototypes I develop throughout my project, will need to have a very tailored focus on design solutions for these types of users.

Furthermore as Dreyfus argues, regarding human intelligence: what we know about the world consists of complex attitudes and tendencies which makes us lead to one interpretation over another’. This also has huge implications for the service design landscape in my project, because it suggests that solely creating inclusive interfaces that focus on a specific group of users needs, will  not be inclusive enough.

Offline users will be more likely to use different thinking processes when using a digital service, that derive from them having not experienced internet services before. Their attitudes and approaches to using complex digital transaction services, will be influenced by their lack of knowledge in the subject, and their subsequent novice skill level, when trying to use these services. This has a deeper ramification for the idea of inclusive designs in service development.

For example, in the case of the implementation of large digital service strategies (eg: Digital by Default), it means there is a need for additional services that not only ‘assist novices‘ to our D.I.Y service culture and economy, but which aim at providing long term support and education, specifically for those with no digital service experience, who have offline cognitive thinking approaches to problem solving.

How can a service be designed to support non-digital thinkers to help access digital services?