The four stages of competence theory was developed by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International. It’s a useful way to understand the stages that a learner will progress through as the learner acquires a new skill.

Unconscious incompetence: This is when the learner does not see the utility in a skill, or is unaware of their own deficiency in the skill.

Conscious incompetence: This occurs when the learner becomes aware of his/her deficiency, and recognizes the importance of taking corrective action. This can be seen as the first step toward skill development.

Conscious competence: This happens when the learner can utilize the skill, but only with great concentration and effort on his/her part. The learner may have to break the skill into steps, and then has to think through each of these steps. The skill can be performed, but does not feel natural.

Unconscious competence: After much practice, the skill begins to feel natural to the learner. It becomes automatic, and requires significantly less concentration.

Typically, when a participant begins a Mandt course, it is helpful for the instructor to explain the rationale for learning a given skill set. When the participant understands the utility of the skill set, that participant has made the first step toward acquisition of the skill. The participant will then progress through conscious competence until they have developed a skill set that feels natural and almost automatic. This is the stage of unconscious competence.

John Windsor – Mandt Faculty

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