Tell me, and I forget, teach me, and I remember, involve me, and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin

Meaningful learning implies there is a comprehensive knowledge of the context of the learned skills where it is fully understood to the extent that it relates to other knowledge. It contrasts with rote learning or memorizing information that is acquired without regard to understanding.

When Learning Occurs

Learning involves far more than thinking: it involves the whole personality - senses, feelings, intuition, beliefs, values, and will. If we do not have the will to learn, we will not learn, and if we have learned, we are actually changed in some way. If learning makes no difference, it can have very little significance beyond random ideas that float through our consciousness.

Learning occurs when we are able to:

  • Gain a mental or physical grasp of the subject.
  • Make sense of a subject, event, or feeling by interpreting it into our own words or actions.
  • Use our newly acquired ability or knowledge in conjunction with skills and understanding we already possess.
  • Do something with the new knowledge or skill and take ownership of it.

Mastering a Skill

People may have several skills, some unrelated to each other, and each skill will typically be at one of the stages below at a given time.

The four stages suggest that individuals are unaware of how little they know or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire and use a skill.

Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.

Also, note that many skills require practice to maintain high competence or mastery.

The Four Stages of Learning a Skill

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the "conscious competence" learning model, relate to the psychological states involved in progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

The four stages of competence in any skill include the following.

1. Unawareness

"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 realize their 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. Awareness

"Conscious Incompetence"

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

3. Learning

"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. Mastery

"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. Depending on how and when it was learned, the individual may be able to teach it to others.

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Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

Mahatma Gandhi

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