Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

3.1 Skills development: Reynolds’ model

Developing the theme of skill acquisition, Atherton (2013a) adapts Reynolds’ (1965) model. It was originally designed to examine skill development in social work, but is transferrable to other professional groups. Reynolds suggested that learning skills was largely a matter of the learner ‘soaking in’, so that performance becomes less self-conscious as learning progresses, and that the transition from one phase to another enables the learner freedom to concentrate on other things.

Reynolds’ model of skill acquisition is shown in Figure 2, where the horizontal line represents a notional threshold of ‘competence’.

Described image
Figure 2 Reynolds’ model of skill acquisition

Applied to the practice of nursing, it is probably true to assume that in the early phases of this model, students are unlikely to possess the confidence to analyse their own practice thoroughly and share their insights with others. Atherton (2013a) suggests that there is often ‘mystique and fragility’ associated with the skill development in these early phases and it is not until the later phases (relative mastery and seeing the skill as second nature) where the learner might confidently share learning with others.

Now pause for a moment and consider Reynolds’ model.

Activity 3 Application of Reynolds’ model for skills development

Allow 30 minutes

Select a skill that you feel confident with – perhaps one that you would see as ‘second nature’. If relevant, you are encouraged to consider one that relates to your healthcare practice. Try to select a skill that you have developed over time and that was not the result of a one-off learning opportunity.

As a suggestion, Activity 1 used the observation of a newly registered nurse being supervised in intravenous drug administration. To get to the point of intravenous administration, much learning would need to have been undertaken – for example, around infection control, cannulation, safe drug calculations and key pharmaceutical understandings. You do not have to use this example, but try to consider a skill that has a similar rich history of development.

Table 1 can be downloaded as a Word document [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Once accessed, complete the table, breaking down your selected skill against Reynolds’ phases of skill acquisition.

Table 1 Reynolds’ model of skill acquisition

Phase of skill acquisition The detail of what was involved Describe how you felt
Have a go
Hit and miss
Relative mastery
Second nature


As your examples and experience are unique, it is impossible to provide a standard. ‘one size fits all’ response to this activity. But were you able to relate to Atherton’s observation that the early phases are clouded by mystique and that confidence is developed through ongoing rehearsal and reflection?


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