O'Connell Advanced Training Solutions

flexibles und individuelles Englischtraining in Sachsen

Conscious Competence and competency-based training

Conscious Competence... okay, your eyes are glazing over, right? You want to get back to lesson planning, just get on with things, right?


If you get your head around this I promise you’ll find your lessons taking flight. Promise.

So let me give the background to you in a nutshell...

The Four Stages of Competence, developed by Noel Burch in the 1970s, provide a model for learning. You can read more about it here and in many other sites across the web, but this is the nutshell version for the busy trainer.

The Four Stages are:
1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence.

These are the stages your learners will be going through in your lessons, but what do they mean?
Unconscious Incompetence - literally, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t understand or know how to do something but also, you don’t necessarily see this as a deficiency.
Conscious Incompetence - here, you know what you don’t know. So, your eyes have been opened and you realise there’s something new to learn. You’re going to make mistakes along the learning path, but that’s valuable and par for the course.
Conscious Competence - at this stage, you know what you know. You’ve learned a new skill or developed new knowledge and you can demonstrate this kill or knowledge, though it doesn’t come automatically, you’re still concentrating on developing or recalling.
Unconscious Competence - finally, you don’t know what you know. This is where your new skill or knowledge has become “second nature” and you may even be able to teach it to others.

From first-hand experience I know why the conscious competence model is so important to have in mind as a trainer when both preparing and delivering a lesson.

As a new trainer in Germany, I was faced with a group of apprentices whose multinational employer had committed to train them not just the technical skills necessary for their job but also English basics, recognising the importance for all employees where the internal communication language was English.

The apprentices were a mixed group of late teens, some with basic English communication skills, some without, and none of them aware of the relevance of English for their chosen trade in metal cutting in a small, industrial east German town.

At that time I had not heard of the Conscious Competence model, though it would have been of great assistance.

It would have helped me understand my learners better, frame my lesson planning and delivery differently, pitch my material appropriately and plan my “Hansel and Gretel” path better. The learning process would not have been as difficult and the results would have been more successful.

When you sit back down to plan your next lesson, be it English for Beginners, English for Tourists, Technical English or a business skill such as telephoning, keep Hansel and Gretel in mind. Lay out a path in your mind, plant breadcrumbs along the way, allow time for your learners to progress through the Stages of Competence and keep the stages in while whilst delivering your lesson. Feel a little more on top of the process and see where you can step in and help your learners a little better? If you structure your lessons around this model with the Adult Learning Principles we’ve previously looked at, you’ll also find yourself move through these Stages to unconscious competence. And that can only be a good thing.

Let me know how it goes, and contact me for some more examples and tips!