Tip #886: Are Your Learners Ready?

“It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.” Claude Bernard

My wonderful colleague, Mary Hoddy, introduced me to Noel Burch’s Conscious Competence Model, which identifies four progressive learning stages.


Beginners are unconsciously unskilled. They are inept and unaware of it, may deny the usefulness of the skills, and won’t want to learn the new skill until they recognize its value.

For beginners to ”buy in” to learning a new skill, give them a learning activity where they can discover its value themselves rather than telling them it is going to be valuable to them.

Frustrated Learners

Frustrated learners are consciously unskilled. They realize how much they need to learn, make frequent mistakes central to the learning, and need to recognize the value of effort and practice. They require a lot of coaching, constructive feedback, and encouragement to move past this stage.

If learners become too frustrated, they will refuse to learn. Use learning activities that slowly introduce the simpler steps before moving on to the more complex, so the learners can have small successes to build their confidence.

Learners Who Are Competent with Effort

Learners who are competent with effort are consciously skilled. They need to think and concentrate to perform, but their mistakes decline. They need constructive feedback to move past this stage.

These learners require ample practice to build automaticity, where they can act without having to think about it. It is important that they practice correctly, so they don’t end up with bad habits. That is why timely feedback is critical.

Subject Matter Experts

Subject matter experts are unconsciously skilled. They perform skills on auto pilot, rarely make mistakes, and may enjoy teaching others. Observational coaching can move them to an even higher level of competence.

Subject matter experts are the perfect people to train beginners. They are also the worst, since it is easy for them to skip critical steps that they do without conscious thought. It helps to have them use a step-by-step task analysis checklist, so they don’t overlook steps and confuse the beginners.

Why Training Fails

When you design training, do you have learners get their toes wet or jump right into the deep end? Be aware of their learning stage and design accordingly. A fundamental reason why training fails is that trainers wrongly assume that learners are at stage two when they are still at stage one.

Question: Do you design learning experiences with the learners’ competency stage in mind?

May your learning be sweet- and safe.



#learnercompetency  #competencylevels  #learnerreadiness

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