The Four Stages of Learning

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The Four Stages of Learning

Breaking down the different stages of learning can be really helpful when we're trying to work out where we are and how far we can go. It can be quite scary to look at the big goal - perhaps professional web designer with a large portfolio of clients who rely on our expertise, when it's as much as we can do to remember the names of the software we'll be using to learn!

We're going to look at four levels of understanding. Whenever we take on something new, we all go through these stages, and recognising them helps us to measure ourselves and our progress.

  1. Unconscious Incompetent
  2. Conscious Incompetent
  3. Conscious Competent
  4. Unconscious Competent

Career changers often start at stage one - Unconscious Incompetent. This is when we know we want to change, but we don't yet know what we don't know, what we need to know, how to learn it or where it might lead us! Sounds pretty desperate, but the important thing is knowing we want to change - everything else can be taught. The essential thing is to get advice. By talking things through with an experienced advisor, the stage one person can discover what's involved in the process; find out where they want to go and what they need to learn.

This moves us swiftly on to stage two - Conscious Incompetent. Now we're probably at the start of your training course. Having been taught the different options, we've decided on our career path, and we know what we have to learn - in other words we're conscious of what we don't yet know, or what we're currently incompetent at. It's important to understand this, to have the wisdom of knowing where we are. Understanding conscious incompetence means that we don't get so frustrated in our early stages of learning - we might not be very good at it (especially if it's been a while since school...) but we know we'll get better. Modern interactive learning accelerates this process, so we don't have to stay at this stage for long.

Stage three is Conscious Competent. We're in the flow of the learning environment, and are picking things up much faster. We still have to consciously think about what we're doing all the time, but we're able to learn competently. We'll probably complete our studies and successfully pass our exams whilst in this learning stage, which is likely to also extend into our working life too. Think about learning to drive a car. We'd got to conscious competency at the time of our test - still consciously aware of every maneuver but good enough to pass the exam. It wasn't until we gained more experience along with the knowledge that we moved into stage four.

In IT, we'll probably be four or five years into our working experience before we become Unconsciously Competent. We know what we need to know, and no longer have to consciously think about why we do something. Although school's never over for the true professional, (and certainly in IT the joy is there's always more to learn) achieving this lofty height of understanding makes all the hard work worth it.

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