The Stages of Learning

“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.” ~ Archibald MacLeish


Have you ever experienced a time in your life where you thought “I’m never going to get this?” Maybe it was learning to ride a bike for the first time or starting to drive (if you are old enough). Then one day an ‘ah-ha moment’ occurred and it seemed to fall in to place…

Back in the 1970’s, Noel Burch developed the Four Stages of Learning. The Four Stages of Learning is a model or theory and provides us with some suggestions on how we learn.

So before you give up on your dreams, get frustrated or stress out, it may be useful to keep the Four Stages of Learning in mind. Especially since Malcolm Gladwell indicates in his book – Outliers: The Story of Success that the key to success is to practice any specific skills for 10,000 hours…


The Stages of Learning are –

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

“I don’t know what I don’t know”

Can you think of a skill or task you are really good at now? Now think back to when you were starting out at that skill/task you’re really good at. There will have been a time in the past where you knew nothing about it and were completely unaware you needed to learn it. This is stage 1 – unconscious incompetence.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

“I now know about it, but I am not very good at it.”

Driving is a great example of this. If you drive, do you remember learning to drive and how clumsy it was when you first started? You may have felt that learning was slow during this stage because you were conscious of the mistakes you were making. Don’t worry, that is normal and is referred to as stage 2 – conscious incompetence.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

“I know how, but I need to think about and concentrate on what I have to do.”

In stage 3 – conscious competence you have the learning, however you may realise you have to really focus and concentrate on what you are doing. This can be a slower learning stage than stage two as the new learning is not consistent or habitual yet (and mistakes can still be made here).

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

“I know and I can do it effortlessly.”

You made it – this is where the learning is habitual and automatic. Your unconscious mind can take over, thus leaving your conscious mind free for something else.

Stage 5: Flow / Mastery

Have you watched a master at work? Imagine Roger Federer if you have watched tennis!

This stage is beyond Stage 4 and something I have added in to the diagram over the years. This stage can be referred to as Mastery or the Flow State.

HfW Stages of Learning

Why am I sharing the Stages of Learning with you?

Because how many times have you tried something and given up after the first or second or even third or fourth try? Remember that is a choice…

I hope that by sharing the stages of learning, it will inspire you to keep going and recognise that not many people get things right the first time (no not even Roger Federer) – it is a process or journey – just like life!


If you are ready to reclaim your courage and take the next step towards freedom and opening your heartwhy not join our Toolkit?


Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field