Levels of Learning

Submitted by Craig on Sun, 04/23/2017 - 16:52

Levels of learning is a simple model for helping us understand where we are in our progression of learning a new skill or body of knowledge. We all go through these stages on our way to mastery or we may stop at some point short of mastery.

When we know where we are along this progression gives us hope because we see light at the end of the tunnel, and knowing that others also go through the same stages when learning a skill we can avoid becoming discouraged along the way.

At first, we don't know what we don't know, and then at the end are new skill or body of knowledge becomes putty in our hands.

Learning can traditionally be divided into 5 stages:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence
  • Mastery

Unconscious Incompetence

This is a stage of learning where we don't know what we don't know. In this stage we are either not interested in learning because the subject is not part of our awareness, or we know so little about the subject that we overestimate our abilities or underappreciate all there is to know about the subject.

Conscious Incompetence

This stage of learning happens early on in a new endeavor and is characterized by an understanding that we have a long way to go. This stage can be daunting, and a decision must be made whether to cut bait or fish.

Conscious Competence

We go through this stage when we realize that through practice, effort and concentration we are getting results. We know what we know, and we can manipulate the outcome through applying what we have learned.

Unconscious Competence

This is a stage is really post-learning. We perform an act or a skill without mental effort, as though automatic. Once we learn how to ride a bike, we never have to learn again, because that skill has become unconscious, directed by our will, but we do not have to think of the mechanics involved.


Mastery is when a skill is learned so well that we are about to produce a state of flow surrounding the performance. Time slows down, and other elements of creativity, and feedback from the environment are woven into the performance of the act.