Understanding the 4 stages of learning


The learning process can often be more difficult than necessary because of the negative feelings people get when they make mistakes. Ironically, not doing it right and making mistakes are vital steps in the learning process.

Understanding the 4 stages of learning a skill can help keep you focused on learning to do something, and not on any mistakes or errors that may occur.

Martin M. Broadwell’s 4 stages of learning gives us a valuable conceptual framework to understand how we learn anything:


We don’t know that we don’t know.

An energetic two year old boy wants to ride a bike that he sees his older brother riding. But he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know how to ride it. Most of us in business who have never had extensive feedback about our interpersonal skills are at this state of unconscious incompetence.


We know that we don’t know.

Here we learn that we are not competent at something. This often comes as a rude awakening. The two year old boy gets on a bike and falls off. He has immediately gone from stage one to stage two and knows that he does not know how to ride a bike.


We work at what we don’t know.

Here we consciously make an effort to learn a new skill. Practice, drill and repetition are at the forefront. This is where most learning takes place. It takes effort and work. The little boy carefully steers and balances and pedals and thinks of what he is doing, step by step.


We don’t have to think about knowing it.

Here the skill set happens automatically at an unconscious level. The little boy rides his bike without even thinking about it. He can whistle, talk, sing, or do other things with his mind at the same time. Another example that we can all probably relate to is driving a car.

 The key is to recognise where you are at in the 4 stages of learning and be patient with yourself.

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