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I don’t know if you have ever been introduced to the four stages of learning or not, but they certainly are worth knowing. When you understand each of the four levels, you can determine where you are in the process as it relates to a specific area or project in your own personal life. Let’s review them together.
- Unconscious Incompetence– That simply means that you don’t know that you don’t know! When you are not aware that you do not know something, you tend to go through life with a very naïve approach. You often get blindsided. It is painful.
The best example of this is a young child. Those of us, who have had children, one day realized that young children must be watched carefully because they do not know what they do not know. If there is danger or an unexpected problem arises, a child could be at risk very quickly.
If you are totally incompetent in a particular area of life and are also unaware that you are incompetent in that area, you are simply a disaster waiting to happen! The first stage of learning is unconscious incompetence and it is not a very good place to be, but we have all been there at one time or another.
- Conscious Incompetence– That is when you begin to be aware that you do not know something. You start to recognize your lack of experience or your lack of knowledge in a particular area or endeavor of life. You recognize the fact that other people seem to know how to do things that you do not seem know how to do. This position puts you in a posture to begin to make progress. You can start learning and growing as you are aware of your incompetence in a particular area.
A good example of this would be teenagers who want to get a driver’s license. They see other people driving a car and they want to drive one too! They immediately become aware of what they do not know. They understand that there are laws and rules that they must learn if they want to get their license. There will be a test to take! And, because it is a burning desire of their hearts to drive, they are willing to learn and practice in their area of incompetence until they can pass the test and get that coveted driver’s license.
- Conscious Competence– This is the area where a person realizes that not only can they learn information, but they can also do something with it. They begin to practice and develop their skills. They get good at what they have learned how to do.
An example of this may be someone who can play the piano. They know what it takes to play the piano because they have practiced over and over again. And, the more they practiced, the more competent they become in that skill.
Anyone who is an expert at whatever they are doing has developed conscious competence. They put in the time, effort and energy to learn what it was they wanted to do in order to become more accomplished at doing it.
All of us should have conscious competence in our own particular areas of expertise or whatever vocation we are involved in on a daily basis.
- Unconscious Competence– This is when something becomes second nature to us. You no longer have to think about what you are doing. You can do it “in your sleep”.
For instance, this could be as simple as riding a bicycle or driving a car or as complex as flying a plane. But, since you have done it for so many years you just get in and take off. You do not even give it a second thought.
It may also be someone who has been speaking or teaching school or doing secretarial work for 20 or 30 years. They have practiced their skill set until it has become second nature to them. Their planning time is usually cut way back because they know how to do whatever it is they do because they have been doing it so long.
This is the stage where a person makes whatever they are doing look very, very easy to everyone else. I think of a skilled chef who, after years of cooking, can make preparing a delicious meal look very easy. It truly is second nature to them because it has become a natural part of their life.
Truly this is the goal that we should all strive for – to get a place that whatever we do in life it just becomes second nature to us.
I think these four stages of learning are fascinating! I can see how I have been through all four of them in many different areas of life. I can also see how I am still developing in those four areas. I am sure the same is true of you as well.
Please remember that all four of these stages of learning take time. Why not check to see where you think you might be in a particular area at this current time? If you need to grow, feel free to do so! If you want to begin a new area of life, don’t feel badly that you have to start at the bottom of the ladder. It is in taking that first step that you begin to move up the ladder and get to where you want to go.
Keep walking in life and making progress. Just make sure the ladder you are climbing is leaning against the right wall so that you will be satisfied when whatever you are doing becomes second nature to you. In time you will become a blessing and encouragement to all with whom you come in contact.