Learning in progress: Four stages of learning

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Do you remember how you learned diving ? As a child you would think it is so easy to drive . Sitting behind the wheel and steering it, that is it !! what is the big deal. When you grew big, you realised it wasn’t that easy and it takes time. Accelerator, brake, clutch, steering, gear, rear mirror, left , right…so much to take care of. Hesitantly, you started driving . Carefully and slowly , that it how it started. It was so embarrassing, when your car would stop right in the middle of the road , while taking a turn. You would be careful and cautious while changing gears and moving the wheel . You continued driving and one day you became a confident driver.

There were so many stages you went through before you actually became a skilled driver. This is true for all of us.We all go through stages of learning . In 1970, Noel Burch developed the four stages of learning.

Stage 1 : Unconscious Incompetence

Learners at this stage, don’t know that they lack skills. In other words they don’t know what they don’t know.

Their confidence is more than their abilities. Learners at this level are not ready to learn. They lack awareness. They lack important information about how people perceive them.

They don’t know which skill or habit of their’s is holding them back.They live in their own paradise. Like initially a child does not to know how a drive a car (incompetence) , moreover he thinks car driving is all about rotating the wheel (unconscious)

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

At this stage learners know the importance of learning. They know, what they don’t know .They know the shortcomings and they know that they need to learn and improve.

They are aware of their limits . They know which skills they need to hone. They can compare their growth with others. They experiment and test new things but, at this early stage, may not see results.

Since they might not get results many learners give up at this stage. They may become overwhelmed by the quantum of knowledge and tasks they have to do to learn. Let us go back to our example , where a person initially finds it difficult to use hands and legs both while driving a car, also managing accelerator, brake and clutch ,gear, steering wheel..this overwhelms a learner sometimes. Brushing the car or bumping it somewhere also de-motivates.

To move beyond this stage, celebrating small successes, staying positive, and finding the determination to learn and improve is essential. They will make mistakes — but they must keep going.

Level 3: Conscious Competence

At this level, they know that they know. They have acquired the skill and now are set out to demonstrate it regularly. The confidence is improving, but it still takes concentration and intention to perform. Someone who has just learnt car driving will be more careful in the initial days. May be slowing down the car or shifting gears, while taking a turn. is what a careful driver at the third stage would do.

At this stage, complacency is the enemy. Practice must continue as mistakes will still be made. In fact, trial and error is necessary to keep learning the skill.

Level 4: Unconscious Competence

“Unconscious Competence.”At this stage, application of the skill is automatic, understanding is high, and the skill is now a strength. You do as if it programmed. Good car driver don’t look at the gears while shifting them. They manoeuver it so well between vehicles, they glide through traffic . This stage is magical. Anyone at this stage casts magic.

Public speakers or trainers or managers at this level take the world in their stride.Those attaining this level of ability must seek feedback and guard against regression.

Without practice, they might fall back to previous stages. Sharing what you’ve learned with people and mentoring others is a way to stay sharp.

If you are a learner, remember no body gets it right in the first attempt, it takes time. Learning is a slow journey. Every individual takes time at each stage, and the time taken by individuals at one stage can be different. Therefore don’t give up…

Also, if you are a mentor, don’t expect your people to become an expert or a leader in day. They will take time to become a leaders, they are under construction. The mantra remains the same …don’t give up….don’t give up on your people… the work is in progress… the learning is in progress.

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