Last month I was talking to Pat Gremo, a fellow ThoughtWorker, about stages of learning. He learned this learning model from karate. Two weeks ago, I found myself repeating it to a room full of Swing Dance teachers who were extremely interested in it. I really enjoy pulling and applying this type of omnirelevant stuff from and to disciplines as ostensibly distinct and separate as martial arts, software development, or dance.
Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence
At this stage, the student does not know what they don’t know. They either have no interest in improving the skill, or they don’t even know there is room for improvement.
When I first played with a typewriter, I was blissfully unaware that I didn’t know how to type – I was a little kid. I think I eventually taught myself how to type with my index finger.
Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence
At this stage, the student understands where they are, they can see the difference between their level of competency and that of someone who has mastered the skill.
I soon became aware that my parents and teachers could type much faster than me. It was annoying, but I didn’t really know what I could do about it…they somehow used all of their fingers.
Stage 3 – Conscious Competence
At this stage, the student has learned the skill enough that they can do it while thinking about it. However, it often requires a great deal of concentration.
After a few weeks of playing with a typing program in the school computer literacy class, I could touch type. I could actually go pretty fast, especially compared to me before. However, in order to type anything, I had to have the complete thought, then hold each word in my mind as my fingers struggled for the keys. The process was very serial, and it led to errors, because I’d often lose my place in my thought while I was thinking about typing.
Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence
At this stage, the student no longer has to think about the skill while performing it. It is at this stage when the skill becomes second nature and a reflex. This is very distinct from the previous stage, and at this stage you can add more things on top of what has been learned.
After many more weeks and eventually years of typing, I started getting to the stage where I didn’t have to think about typing at all. In fact I now don’t have to think about each character at. I just think each word, and sometimes I don’t even have to do that. I can be thinking of the next thing I’m going to write while making a correction on the previous line. The speed of my typing is obviously much faster than it used to be – and also the quality of what I type is better.
see also Four Stages of Competence
h2. Other Learning Models
There are many different learning models, it’s often helpful to cycle through several to find one that might be more applicable or helpful when you are either teaching or learning.
At the swing dance teaching workshop that I took last week, we talked a lot about identifying how your students learn. Are they visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners? Do they approach problems from a global or linear fashion? Can you teach something hitting all of these at the same time? Or can you customize your teaching style for your student?
Another of my favorites for a long time now is the one Alistair Cockburn talks about in Agile Software Development. He basically separates learning into 3 stages, following, detaching, and fluent – but that’s another blog post
I live for this stuff. After all, I am primarily a teacher, whatever my business card says.