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This is the first of two papers discussing the application of Berkeley phenomenologist Hubert Dreyfus’ five-stage model of skill acquisition to information literacy (IL) theory and practice. This paper will review and build on previous discussions of the relation between generic, conceptual, competency-based approaches to IL definition and instruction and what has come to be called “situated” approaches, arguing that both the generic and situated approaches to IL ought to find a place within a complex learning continuum. Dreyfus’ model depicts this continuum as one in which learners start out as novice rule-followers and then develop, over time and with guidance from instructors, into experts capable of situated, embodied coping. The Dreyfus model is here put forward as a synthetic approach that can be used by IL theorists and instructors to design curricula aimed at maximizing the learning potential of students in formal learning environments.