The Four Stages of Learning

The Knowledge Ladder

Unconscious Ignorance

Our learning process goes through four stages. In the initial stage, the Unconscious Ignorance, something is completely unknown to us. We are not even aware of its existence. For example, you do not know that there exists a particular type of insect deep in the Amazon Forest. Then a friend mentions about this insect and tells you its name. It’s called examplinsect.

Conscious Ignorance

You just entered the next learning stage which is that of Conscious Ignorance. You know this insect exists, you know its name, but still you have no idea about it. Here you have some awareness. You know that you don’t know anything about it.

The four stages of Learning, learn how you learn!

Conscious Knowledge

A few weeks later, you happen to watch a documentary about wildlife and you learn a lot of things about the examplinsect, its colors, what it eats, where it lives, how it mates, etc. You have just moved into the third stage, that of Conscious Knowledge, in which you will remain for a while.

Unconscious Knowledge

If you find all this stuff interesting you may seek more information resources about the examplinsect in the web, in books, etc. This will reinforce your knowledge and let you move to the final stage, that of Unconscious Knowledge. In that stage you no longer put any effort to refresh your memory. All – or most – information is retrieved easily when required.

The Competence Ladder

Unconscious Incompetence

The same goes with competence and skill. There was a time when you were very young, when you first saw a bicycle. Before that moment you were in the stage of Unconscious Ignorance or Unconscious Incompetence. You didn’t know there were bicycles and even more you didn’t know how to ride one.

Conscious Incompetence

At the very moment you saw your first bicycle, you entered the stage of Conscious Incompetence. You learned that there is this magical toy called a bicycle and some people actually know how to play with it. But you were not one of those people.

Conscious Competence

Months went by, your birthday comes and your father walks in carrying a big box. Guess what? A little bicycle! Wait, you need to be careful! Remember you are still in Stage 2. You unbox the bicycle and you find that you can sit on it with no prior knowledge. Well done, you are getting there! Then you try to push the pedals but that’s a bit confusing, isn’t it? You press with both feet and nothing happens. Progressively you figure it out. Practice makes perfect! In a few days you are unstoppable. You can move around the furniture of the house with remarkable agility. Congratulations, you have entered into the third stage of learning, that of Conscious Competence.

The four stages of Learning, learn how you learn!

While in this stage, you know you can ride a bicycle but still you need to think before you perform certain actions like turning, braking or balancing. And then you go out in the street or in the park. You meet new challenges, like uphill and downhills, pedestrians, mud puddles, other bicycles, cats and dogs, or even cars and lorries.

Unconscious Competence

But if you keep riding your bicycle and get out of your comfort zone often, it is a matter of time to master it. At that point you don’t have to think before braking or turning. It just happens automatically and effortlessly. Balancing on the bike has become your second nature. You are now into the last step of the competence ladder. You are equipped with the superpowers of Unconscious Knowledge and Unconscious Competence.

Summary of learning stages

Stage 1: We are Unconsciously Unskilled – we don’t know that we don’t have this skill, or that we need to learn it. We don’t know that we don’t know.

Stage 2: We are Consciously Unskilled – we know that we don’t have this skill. We know that we don’t know.

Stage 3: We are Consciously Skilled – we know that we have this skill. We know that we know.

Stage 4: We are Unconsciously Skilled – we don’t know that we have this skill (it seems too easy). We don’t know that we know.

See also: Increase your awareness by reading our article: Awareness Sharpening Games