Monday 9 September 2013

Conscious Competence model of learning

Four Box Models
The recent post about Advisor Roles reminded me how many four box models I use in my work. They are often helpful in teasing out different aspects of complexity, or different elements in our thinking or in a process. The urgency and importance grid is a classic and well-known example.
One I frequently refer to is the Conscious Competence model of learning. People often find it helpful to understand why, when they have 'learned' something, they still find it difficult to do.  This helps highlight the difference between 'learned' as in understood, and 'learned' as acquired competence in...
I will probably post on more four box models over the coming weeks.
Conscious Competence Model
This model of learning suggests that when we start learning something new, we have both low competence or skill, and low understanding, or consciousness, of what we need to learn (A).
The first phase of learning, from A - B is about acquiring the knowledge or understanding necessary to raise our conscious awareness or understanding.

That results in our knowing what we are striving for, but not yet being skilled in executing it (eg knowing the theory of how to do a hill start in a car, but still stalling more often than not).
The journey from B - C can be a frustrating one.  We know what we are trying to do but can’t yet do it.  The temptation can be to give up at this point.  But in fact, what we need is to practice, until we are competent.
At C we are operating at a point of high consciousness  and reasonable competence (eg during a driving test, when we are continually muttering 'mirror, signal, manouevre...' to ourself).
Over time, our awareness may reduce, leading to unconscious competence (D).  We maintain the competence (we jump in the car and drive safely to work, without explicitly thinking about our driving at all).
However, as we are paying less attention to the process, we may find our competence slips a bit (eg forgetting to put on the handbrake, when stopping at red lights: E)  

If we want to improve our competence further, (to take the Advanced Motorists' test, for example) we will need to go on the same journey: increasing awareness (E - F) practicing skills with heightened awareness, to improve our competence (F- G) and then allowing it to slip into unconscious competence at a higher level of skill (H).

This model informs both my own design and execution of learning interventions, and how I help other to understand the learning journey.  
For example, I may use this model to introduce learning that builds on things people already know. I explain that I am not assuming they have no knowledge or skills, but rather seeking to help them bring the knowledge and skills they do have back into conscious awareness, so that they can be polished, improved a bit, and slipped back into unconsciousness at a higher level of competence.  I find this can deflect people from a path of resentment or feeling patronised when it is necessary to cover things they may, or indeed should, already know, but don't put into practice.  

It is also one reason why getting groups to discuss an issue is helpful: it helps bring the tacit (or unconscious) knowledge back into awareness: conscious competence.

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