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Learning Matrix: Conscious vs Competence

Learning Matrix: Conscious vs CompetenceLearning Matrix provides a model for learning

In the very beginning of our learning curve we are (1) initially unaware of how little we know or can do (unconscious of our incompetence). As we (2) recognise our incompetence, (3) we consciously acquire a skill and can consciously use that skill. Eventually, (4) we can use the acquired skill without consciously being thought through (unconscious competence).

It is important to define two major approaches to acquiring skills:

1. “Western” – via ‘motivation, following (1)-(2)-(3)-(4) and

2. “Asian” – via ‘I know it from my parents’, following (1)-(4) omitting (2) and (4).


1. Unconscious Incompetence

The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

2. Conscious Incompetence

Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

3. Conscious Competence

The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

4. Unconscious Competence

The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

(1) Kid does not know a bike exists and is happy

(2) Kid sees other kids driving bikes around and wants to learn to drive.

(3) Kid learns to drive and tells everyone about the success.

(4) Kid grows up and drives the bike every day. It is not a big deal anymore


Handouts for you:

PDF: Learning Matrix: conscious vs competence (pdf) (221 downloads)

PPT: Learning Matrix: conscious vs competence (ppt) (1750 downloads)

PNG: Learning Matrix: conscious vs competence (png) (156 downloads)