As adults, we have a difficult time learning new things or relearning old things. We’ve forgotten what the learning process includes.
When we attempt to learn something new, we often experience a lot of frustration, which tends to set us back and thwart us from learning more.
But to grow, to be successful, we must continually learn.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” -John F. Kennedy
Let’s Talk About the 4 Stages of Learning
As adults, we have learned things and created our habits. We do a lot of things second nature and don’t need to learn how to do certain things again.
That’s because a very effective muscle memory created neural pathways to make very efficient brain activity! That’s what makes life easier for us: we don’t have to relearn everyday, routine tasks.
So why would we want to change things up?
It’s hard to dispute that when things are running fairly smoothly.
That’s why it’s important to talk about the four levels of learning for adults. It helps us consciously become aware of whether we want to learn and if we’re going to – what that process looks like.
Level #1: Unconscious Incompetence
You don’t even know what you don’t know. You can’t learn anything when aren’t aware of what you’re supposed to be learning.
This is a blissful experience.
Example: A new employee: they’ve never done the job before and have no idea what they’re doing. They think they know because they learned some things about it ahead of time, but at the end of the day, they have no clue as to what the expectation really is.
But they are eager to dive in fearlessly. They are very willing and excited to learn.
We’ve all been there, right?
Then we start to recognize that we really don’t know everything. We get a little scared.
That’s because we’re at the next level…
Level #2: Conscious Incompetence
Here’s where we become aware of some things that we don’t know and what we need to learn.
That blissful feeling we experienced earlier…turns into fright, overwhelm, and frustration.
Many people quit a job at this level.
It is an extremely uncomfortable feeling to be so aware of everything you don’t know.
Sure, it’s easier just to walk away at this point and return to doing something you were good at. But that doesn’t help you grow – nor will it help you achieve where you want to go.
You wanted to take on something new for a reason. You’re walking away from a goal that you wanted to accomplish in your life.
To gain new knowledge and achieve your goals, you need to step up to:
Level #3: Conscious Competence
You seek the resources that will allow you to continue to learn and practice.
You’ve stuck with your new task. You understand that there is a lot you don’t know and need to learn.
To learn more, you:
- Seek out the people who can help you
- Refine your skills, whether through reading or research
- Stay curious, ask questions
- Practice your new skill more and more
This is an exciting time! You’re like a young child, excited to be learning to ride a bike: You’re able to ride – but still rely on those training wheels.
Once you learn how to ride a bike – you never forget it.
Congrats! You’ve reached the next level:
Level #4: Unconscious Competence
Your new skill:
- Is such a part of you now that you don’t even have to think about it.
- You could do in your sleep, because you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
- Makes you forget the steps you took to get here because you created a habit.
Yet it is the awareness of these four levels of learning that is the key to successfully mastering all of it.
You’ve Reached Learning Level #4: Now What?
You can choose to stay at level four if it’s serving you and working for you.
However, we get into trouble when those habits no longer serve us – when what we have been doing for so long is not the best for us anymore.
Humans can get comfortable when things are going OK. We tell ourselves we don’t need to change.
But then we shut out learning and growing.
Be willing to relearn new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching things. We better ourselves by working through that process continually in life.
We can always grow and strive for higher levels – but we must be willing to put ourselves through the learning process again and again. By constantly growing, we continue to evolve.
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“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi