The Unintentional Trainer’s Guide to The Learning Ladder

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The Learning Ladder

The Learning Ladder

The learning ladder is a brilliant model to help you think about the process that people go through when learning a new skill.

Most of you can probably drive a car so we’ll use that as an example (if you can’t drive, think about when you learnt to swim or ride a bike, the principles are exactly the same).

So when you first turned 17 (if you are in the UK), and got your provisional license (or learners permit) you probably had no idea what you were doing.  I know I had a basic grasp of the functions of each of the pedals but that was as far as it went.  At this stage I was unconsciously incompetentOr in others words I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  If you had asked me, I would probably have said that I had a good idea of how they worked together, but of course in reality I couldn’t possibly as I’d never done it before.

Then I had my first lesson.  And I realised that I actually had no idea how to work the pedals so I ended up kangaroo hopping down the road for a few minutes.  This is the second step of the ladder:  consciously incompetent.  Now I knew exactly how much I didn’t know.  Learning to drive seemed like an uphill struggle.  How on earth would I manage to keep track of everything that needing doing to drive safely?  So I was very aware of what I needed to know (that’s the consciously part) but still was no good at doing it (so still incompetent).

After many lessons, I took my test and passed it (whoo!).  I had now reached the third step on the learning ladder – consciously competent.  I had passed my test so was deemed competent to drive safely but I was still very aware of what I was doing.  I would have to concentrate hard to make sure I did everything the way I should.

Finally, after several months and lots and lots of miles of driving I reached the fourth step on the learning ladder, unconsciously competent.  Now driving had become a bit more of an ingrained habit.  It was second nature.  I didn’t have to tell myself to indicate or whatever, I just did it automatically because I was so familiar with the processes involved in driving safely.

Whenever anyone learns a new skills, this is the process that they go through.  As trainers, our role is to help them achieve unconscious competence.  It’s really important to remember that reaching this fourth stage takes time and practice.  It isn’t something that can happen in a training session, which is why it’s necessary to put in place follow up training and/or reviews for people.

Until next time, enjoy!  :)




Founder of Zostera Ltd and The Trainers CPD Club. I've worked in L&D for over 16 years across both the public and private sectors.

Posted in Facilitation, Learning Methods, Learning Theory, The Unintentional Trainers Guide To...., Training Tagged with: , , , ,

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