Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.         

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