A Fifth to the four stages of learning

A model about how we learn.

Learning can be said to take place in four stages:

I Unconscious incompetence

Blissful ignorance
Confidence exceeds ability, we are not knowledgeable/skilful
We don’t know we don’t know.

II Conscious incompetence

We discover a skill we wish to learn – driving a car, riding a bike
Confidence drops as we realise our ability is limited
We need to practise to learn. Often this means not succeeding at first.
This is learning; unfortunately, in our culture it is often labelled ‘failure’. We feel uncomfortable.
We know what we don’t know.

III Conscious competence

We acquire the skill. We have become consciously competent. Our conscious mind can only cope with a small number of new bits of information at any one time.
Our confidence increases with our ability, we have to concentrate on what we know/do
Can do if know how to.

IV Unconscious competence

Lastly, we blend the skills together and they become habits – we can then do them while our mind is on other things.
We have reached the stage of unconscious competence.
Our confidence and ability have peaked, we no longer have to concentrate on what we know/do; this is the start of the next learning curve
We can do, but don’t necessarily know how we do.

In different areas of our life we will be at different stages on different learning curves

A number of us might be familiar with the four stages of learning which has been used for decades and has been highly promoted by a number of training or learning institutions of the like of World famous Thomas Gordon. I personally came across the stages of learning on my NLP courses.

Building a learning organisation as advocated by Peter Senge is one of the pillars any entrepreneur should strive for.

Many researchers now postulate, Thinking that stage four of the model mentioned, as being the ultimate,caps progress. It brings complacency.That is the reason, a fifth stage is now being introduced to perfect the much used conscious/competence Matrix. Some researchers in learning David Baume, amongst others, are suggesting a fifth stage called reflective comptence.

Reflective Competence would be the qualifier to outstanding performances delivered on demand in sports, by Tiger Woods or Micheal Jourdan. This would not be dissimilar to Capabilty Maturity Model as used in software development. The 5 levels defined as: initial, repeatable, defined, managed and optimised.


#1 Olivier on 10.09.06 at 11:27 pm

Very interesting. I was about to ask about a fifth stage! What would be interesting is to see the rate of change between the various stages.

i.e. what I mean is, is it easier to jump from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence rather than from step 1 to 2? and What can be done to facilitate the transition?

#2 joseph on 10.10.06 at 5:19 pm

Stage 1 to 2 is achieved by observations and awareness.A baby will see a human walking. He becomes aware that it is possible to move from point A to B by moving on one’s leg.Whilst being now conscious with what is possible ,he is at the same time conscious of his incompetence.Likewise skimming information is a way of increasing our knowledge.
ope i have shed some light on your question.Stage 3 to 4 is a question of practice and practice until it becomes second nature…a habit.

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