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How The Conscious Competence Model Helps You

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What is the Conscious Competence Model, and how can you use the 4 stages of learning to develop your skills?

Why is it crucial to understand how people learn? And how can this make you better?

If you spent at least a few years in school (which I assume you did) you probably noticed that we don’t all learn the same way.

Maybe you liked school. Or you thought it was terrible.
You may even have thought that your school’s teaching style just wasn’t doing it for you.

Perhaps you saw a webinar or an online class that was perfect for you. But what made it perfect?

So, today we’ll look at the Conscious Competence Model and its 4 Stages of Learning.

You’ll also discover a quick overview of the 4 Mind Styles Model, the VARK Framework, and Growth vs. Fixed Mindset.

These different concepts can help you figure out what strategy works best for your personal development.

The Conscious Competence Learning Theory

The Conscious Competence Learning Model was first described by Management Trainer Martin Broadwell in 1969. Noel Burch then developed the Conscious Competence Ladder in the 1970s while working at Gordon Training.

This learning model focuses on 2 factors that are important when we learn a new skill. Our awareness (consciousness) and our skill level (competence).

This model can help you understand which of the 4 stages of competence you’re in if you want to learn or improve a skill.

People have different learning styles, and knowing what works best for you is helpful.

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

Wikipedia Definition

The Conscious Competence Learning Theory or Matrix explains how we learn something new, and what process or stages we go through. The 4 stages of learning are called

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence

So what are the 4 Stages of Learning?

According to the Conscious Competence Model, the 4 learning stages can be organized in a Learning Matrix.

Conscious Competence Learning Matrix
Conscious Competence Matrix

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

At the unconscious incompetence stage, you don’t know that you don’t know! You don’t give a certain skill any active thought because you’re unaware that you may need it.

That’s why you don’t see it as a relevant skill for now. You are unskilled, but it’s not even on your radar.

You don’t feel anything at this stage, as you are blissfully unaware of any issues.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

At the conscious incompetence stage, you know that you suck. Or to say it more politely: You know that you don’t know.

And so, you’re painfully aware that there is a gap and that this skill is useful. That’s when you sign up for a class because you don’t want to be unskilled anymore.

At this stage, you may feel self-conscious and lack confidence. You see that you still have a long way in front of you. Maybe you’ll even judge yourself.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

Once you pass the 2 previous stages, you reach the conscious competence stage. Although you’ve learned the skill, it doesn’t come naturally yet. You have to concentrate to do it, and you practice, study, and repeat.

To do the task well, you need to make a conscious effort. But with much practice and hard work you can get to the next level.

You start to feel more confident and more motivated. You realize how much you’ve learned and your progress is exciting.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

Unconscious competence is the final stage of the 4 stages of learning. This high-level skill is so engrained that you no longer use a conscious process. It becomes second nature, like a habit.

The learning process to get here can be long and tedious, but then it’s like you run on autopilot. Although you do it, you don’t necessarily know how you do it.

This process will be much quicker if you already have certain skills or aptitudes. You can start at Stage 1 and still have great natural advantages already.

At this stage, you feel completely confident.

You’re lighthearted, and you can truly enjoy your skills. And since you don’t have to focus on doing them, you can listen to music or do something else at the same time.
So it’s much more fun now.

Conscious Competence Stage 4

Bonus Stage 5: You’re able to coach or teach

Although unconscious competence is the highest level of personal mastery of a skill, there is a fifth stage if you want to teach.

At this stage, you not only master a skill, but you can actually teach students at the other learning stages how to learn that skill.

Side note: These stages are not set in stone. If you don’t practice your skills, you can fall back into previous stages – or you may never reach the final stage.

It all depends on the difficulty of the skill and how well you know it.
You may still be able to ride a bike after 20 years… but it may be harder to play an instrument or speak a language you haven’t used in a decade.

Beyond the Conscious Competence Model

The 4 stages of learning we saw above are not the only thing that impacts your learning curve.
So, let’s look at other famous learning models and learning styles.

This is helpful for everyone, even if you never want to be a coach or a teacher. These ideas can help you make better progress with your own personal development!

Mind Styles Model

Anthony Gregorc’s Mind Styles Model from 1984 is based on the idea that our way of thinking, learning, and processing information can be divided into 4 distinct styles.

  • Concrete-Random-Learner
  • Concrete-Sequential-Learner
  • Abstract-Sequential-Learner
  • Abstract-Random-Learner
Abstract Concrete Learning Styles
Mind Styles Learning Matrix

Conrete-Random-Learners like to experiment, are hands-on risk-takers, and learn from the process. They can be highly competitive and prefer to work through problems on their own.
They hate routine and repetition.

Concrete-Sequential-Learner: Unlike concrete-random learners, they don’t mind repetitious work. But open-ended questions, a lack of structure, and disorganized people are not appreciated.
Concrete-sequential learners can be exceptional task-masters as long as they know exactly what is expected.

Abstract-Sequential-Learners, like concrete-random learners, don’t care for tedious or repetitive work. Logic, facts, and expediency are crucial to them.
They thrive in stimulating environments and value expert opinions. When it comes to communicating with others, they may not always be tactful.

Abstract-Random-Learners are the most social people in this group. They truly enjoy teamwork and shy away from competition.
They also don’t like dictatorial leaders and unfriendly people.

Because they are so social, focusing on one thing at a time can be complicated for the playful abstract-random learner, and even constructive criticism can hurt their feelings.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

Standford psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D. argues that there are 2 kinds of people. People with a fixed mindset and people with a growth mindset.

For a “fixed mindset” person, their creative ability, character, and intelligence are static and can’t change in any meaningful way.

People with this mindset prefer to look smart rather than to become smarter. Outside approval is crucial, so they avoid failure at all costs (like learning something new).

Learning styles: Fixed vs Growth Mindset

On the other hand, a “growth mindset” person thrives on challenges and believes in personal development. And so, improving themselves comes naturally to them, and they know there are different stages of learning.

And failing doesn’t mean they are worthless. They see this as an opportunity to grow and expand their existing abilities.

The VARK Model

The most famous learning model is probably the VARK framework. This learning concept also puts people into 4 categories according to their preferred learning styles.

They are called Visual, Auditory, Read/write, and Kinesthetic (touch). And even if most people learn a little bit through everything, one of these styles is usually dominant.

Of course, I like great visuals and reading about things, but I’m an auditory learner. Listening is much more important than looking at someone (unless it’s a step-by-step tutorial).

So what’s your favorite learning style? Again, the best material combines all the categories.

Learning Styles: Visual, Auditory, Reading, Kinesthetic

Struggles with conscious competence

Learning new skills can be hard. It can create self-doubt, frustration, fear of failure, and even overconfidence that can hurt you, too. Whatever your current emotional state, developing your skills is always helpful.

The Dunning Kruger Effect

The Dunning Kruger Effect usually affects people with a low skill level who totally overestimate how good they are.

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.

Wikipedia

This happens when you don’t know that you don’t know. There’s a gap in knowledge and skills that someone is unaware of, so they think they rock.

Take for example a software programmer who thinks he’s great at coding. His code works, and so he thinks he’s awesome at his job.

But in reality, it took him far too long to write, and the code is messy… because our programmer doesn’t know that there are much better (or more modern) ways to do it.

It’s like Stage 1 of our conscious competence model. This programmer is terrible, but he is completely unaware of this!

The Imposter Syndrome

Kind of the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. In this case, you obsess about your lack of knowledge and may underestimate how much experience and skills you have.

Conscious Competence Imposter Graphic

The imposter syndrome is most likely to hit around stages 2 and 3 of the conscious competence matrix. But even highly successful people suffer from it, too.

Check out this post to overcome imposter syndrome!

Procrastination

Procrastination can be sneaky, and surprisingly it has nothing to do with laziness.
But if you’re not doing what you should be doing, it must mean you’re lazy, right? Why else would you procrastinate?
This lack of motivation can even lead to self-esteem problems.

The following article gives you a few insights on why you really procrastinate and helps you overcome procrastination once and for all.

13 Reasons why we procrastinate
Read this next

Get better thanks to all these learning models

I hope you enjoyed the Conscious Competence Learning Matrix and the other famous learning processes.

Hopefully, this information will help you with your personal development goals.

And if you’re a life coach, a tutor, a sports coach, or a teacher…it’s valuable to know where your students are in the learning matrix. And what their preferred learning styles are.

Learning is a step-by-step process, and it’s much easier to climb the learning ladder if the content and the teaching method match the audience.
There’s no one size fits all solution.

So the single most effective way to teach is to adapt the material and exercises according to the 4 stages of learning and the other models.

Which idea was the most helpful? Or what would you add to make this post more complete?

Have a great day,

Improve yourself. Improve your life!

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