Stages of Learning


There are four stages of learning.  As an persons learns a skill or behavior, they go through the four stages.



STAGE 1:  Unconscious Incompetence

This is the stage of blissful ignorance.  We do not know what we do not know.

In this stage:

  • Our Confidence exceeds our ability
  • We have little experience or skill
  • We are unaware of a deficiency in the subject/skill

We must become conscious of our incompetence before learning can begin and the new skill developed.


STAGE 2:   Conscious Incompetence

As our awareness evolves into this stage, we begin to realize how little you know.

In this stage:

  • Confidence drops as we realize our ability is limited
  • We feel uncomfortable. 
  • We become aware of the existence and relevance of the skill, as well as our deficiency in this area
  • We begin to realize how much we don’t know
  • Practicing the skill takes all our concentration
  • Much learning occurs


We realize that by improving our skill or ability in this area our effectiveness will improve. We must make a commitment to learn and practice the new skill, and to move to the ‘conscious competence’ stage.


STAGE 3:  Conscious Competence

We achieve ‘conscious competence’ in a skill when we can perform it consistently at will.  We can perform the skill, but it takes attention and concentration.

In this stage:

  • Our confidence increases with our ability
  • We need to concentrate and think in order to perform the skill
  • We can perform the skill without assistance
  • We realize how much they have learned


This is a stage where many choose to remain. However, true mastery is not attained until the fourth stage of learning.


STAGE 4:  Unconscious Competence

In the final stage, the skill becomes so practiced that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain and it becomes ‘second nature’.  This is where we can do something effortlessly and without thinking about it.

In this stage:

  • Our confidence and ability have peaked
  • We no longer have to concentrate on what we know/do
  • We can do, but don’t necessarily know how we do
  • We blend the skills together and they become habits
  • We can then do them while our mind is on other things


This is the stage when the skill becomes almost a habit, we are able to be successful without concentration and our conscious mind is free to take on other things.


The Brain and Learning

Cognition and Learning

How We Learn

Stages of Learning

Mental Models

Obtaining Information

The Learning Cycle

Author:  James Kelly  September 2012


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