The sequence of learning

Did you know that there is a sequence to the way we learn?

’The sequence follows the pattern below.

Unconscious incompetence.

Conscious incompetence.

Conscious competence.

Unconscious competence.

Let me explain how this works.

Unconscious incompetence is what happens when you first try to do something you have not done before.

Because it is all new, you are going to make mistakes and not even be aware of this initially.

As an example, imagine you are back to learning how to drive a manual car.

Stalling or not using the rear-view mirror sufficiently may be regular inadvertent error but as you begin to become aware of these, you can try address them and so move into the next state ‘conscious incompetence’.

In this state you know you are not doing everything right but now recognise that the lack of revs was causing the stall and that checking the rear-view mirror actually reduces the number of last minute swerves and horn blasts from cars behind.

Over time and perhaps with some additional support or training, you are able to get on top of the bad habits and are now well aware of doing so.

This state is known as ‘conscious competence’.

I remember well going through it myself when learning to drive as I consciously tried to properly synch the clutch and the throttle when changing gear.

Gradually the skill becomes more natural and you move into ‘unconscious competence’ in which you can drive (and change gear) without having to think about it.

Similar to proficient musicians being able to sing and play guitar or piano at the same time.

The same is of course true in business and recognizing this natural sequence of learning and allow for it with our staff does much to support staff education and tolerance of mistakes.

Below is another way to view this sequence of learning known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’ which tracks confidence against competence and reflects how we might feel through each of these stages.

I don’t recommend applying these terms to those learning but it is comforting to know that we all go through these stages.

Ian Ash is the managing director for OrgMent Business Solutions.