Skill acquisition and training

It has been on my mind for some time, how new traders develop in their acquisition of skill. There are several different models out there on the net, not specific to traders but quite applicable. In the diagram below I present the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition (adapted from Wikipedia)

I think this is important for the following reasons:

  1. New traders can benefit by self-reflection by placing themselves at various stages of development. They see better where they are and where they need to get to.
  2. The model provides drive and motivation to acquiring new skill and competence.
  3. Trainers can use the model to understand roughly where their ‘trainees’ are. By doing so trainers can match what they are teaching to the approximate needs of their trainees.

The model is by no means perfect or complete. No individual trader should be put in a box – classified and labelled. I do not think that is very helpful. In fact it can be destructive. I suggest that trainers refrain from asking trainees ‘where they are?‘. Some aspects of a new trader’s development could well fall into different boxes at the same time, though it would be rare for a novice trader to have many expert trader skills.


One of the big problems new traders may experience is a communication gap between them and expert traders who teach, explain or share knowledge. Experts who train may find that their message is not getting through, because their language, methods and their speed are so far advanced. Expert traders need to be very sensitive and recollect what it was like to be a ‘novice’. Avoidance of jargon and abbreviations as much as possible helps. Experts can and probably should allow novices to play with and adhere to rules for a while – whilst gradually pulling them out of a rules-based pattern of operation.

There may a natural enthusiasm among experts to spare novices of the ‘hard grind’. But there is a danger that in the communication gap, that novices and beginners give up or drop out. I suggest that both novices and trainers should pace themselves carefully. Some novices will work along a slower learning curve than others. Of course, some novices will never be able to acquire the mastery of the skill.

However, when should a trainer give up – or when should a novice give up? It’s a difficult question to answer in the world of trading. Some experts like Dan Zanger took 6 years to get there, and then took off like a rocket – never to fall back to earth. So ‘never’ is a difficult one to gauge in the trading world.

The true value in the Dreyfus Model is in reflective practice. Trainers can reflect on where they are with trainees – and trainees can self-assess where they are on their pathway of development.





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