Dividing the different stages of learning into sections can be really helpful when we’re trying to work out where we are and how far we can go. Looking at the big goal can be quite scary – (let’s say professional web designer with a big portfolio of customers who are dependent on our expertise), when it’s as much as we can do to recall the names of the software we’ll be learning from!
Let’s look at four different levels of understanding. Whenever we take on anything new, we all experience these stages, and recognizing them helps us to evaluate ourselves and our progress.
Unconscious Incompetent – This is stage one where career changers often start. At this stage we know we want to change, but we don’t yet know what we don’t know, what we need to know, how to learn it or where it might take us! Sounds a bit desperate, but the main thing is knowing we want to change – everything else can be taught.
The main thing is to take advice. The stage one person can discover what’s involved in the process by talking things through with an experienced adviser; then they can find out where they want to go and what they need to learn.
This moves us swiftly on to stage two -
Conscious Incompetent. Now we’re probably at the start of your training course. Having been taught the different options, we’ve decided on our career path, and we know what we have to learn – in other words we’re conscious of what we don’t yet know, or what we’re currently incompetent at.
Understanding this is important, to have the wisdom of knowing where we are. Grasping conscious incompetence means that we don’t get quite so frustrated in the early stages of our learning – it’s possible we’re not very good at it (especially if it’s been a while since we were at school…) but we know we’ll get better. Modern interactive learning accelerates this process, so we won’t be at this stage for long.
Then we reach stage three, which is…
Conscious Competent. Now we’re in the zone of the learning environment, and pick things up much faster. We still have to think consciously about what we’re doing all the time, but we can learn competently. Whilst in this learning stage we’ll probably complete our studies and successfully pass our exams. It’s likely to also extend into our working life too.
Remember when we learned to drive a car? We’d got to conscious competency by test time – good enough to pass the exam but still consciously aware of every manoeuvre. It wasn’t until we gained more experience to consolidate the knowledge that we moved into stage four.
In IT, we’ll probably be several years into our working experience before we become Unconsciously Competent. We know what we need to know, and no longer have to consciously think about why we do something. Although school’s never over for the true professional, (and certainly in IT the joy is there’s always more to learn) achieving this lofty height of understanding makes all the hard work worth it.