The 4 Steps to Learning

There are a few training methodologies for IT Training. This is my favourite as I believe it is the fastest and most effective method to transfer knowledge. It is how we would naturally learn something new.


There are 4 steps to learning:

First there is UI – Unconscious Incompetence. This is where you are unaware of a certain skill and you don’t know how to carry out that skill. For example you may be unaware that you can perform calculations in Microsoft Excel and you don’t know how to do it.

The second stage is CI – Conscious Incompetence. This is when you become aware of a skill but you still can’t do it. For example you are now aware that Excel can perform calculations but you still don’t know how.

The third stage is CC – Conscious Competence. This is when you know what the skill is and you have decided to learn it. So you start to use the skill and you start to become competent but you still have to ‘consciously’ think about what you are doing. For example you can create calculations in Excel but you have to concentrate and think about what you are doing.

The last stage is UC – Unconscious Competence.  If you practice a skill for long enough you will reach this fourth stage and form a habit. At this point the skill has become unconscious. Like automatic pilot. For example you can now create calculations in Excel without really thinking about it.

If the above are the four steps of learning then as trainers we should take the learners through the four steps.

Therefore the 4 steps to training should be:

The Big Picture

This is where you tell the learners what you are about to teach them. This makes them conscious of the skill. When you explain the skill it’s a good idea to get the learners to think about how they will use this new skill. This creates the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) and creates the desire to learn the new skill. It’s also an opportunity to check each individuals prior knowledge


This is where you show the learners how to do something. Demonstrations need to be clear, shown at an appropriate pace and be a manageable amount so that learners are not overwhelmed. All distractions should be minimised by the trainer and learners should be encouraged to take notes during the ‘Hands On’ session rather than at the demo as they may miss something.


This is where the learners have a go themselves and it’s where they are becoming CC.  The trainer should encourage making mistakes, cheating (looking over each others shoulders if they are struggling or asking each other how to do something) and asking “daft” questions. The aim is to create a stress free, fun environment. The role of the trainer is to guide the learner (don’t take over) to discover their own learning ability and induce a feeling of self achievement.

I often use background music during the hands-0n sessions to encourage the stress free, ‘cheating’ enviroment. When the music is switched off it also acts as a subtle ‘we are moving on to the next section”.


The trainer should ask questions and conduct review sessions to encourage and show the learner(s) the success of their own learning. During this time, it is important that the trainer creates the right environment to promote reflection and visualisation of the process that has just been demonstrated and applied. Students should be encouraged to think about these processes without the visual prompts that would otherwise be available (get them to turn off their monitors). For example we might ask them to think about the steps they took to create a calculation in Excel. Once they have had a minute or so (this uses the pose, pause, person questioning technique) the learners talk through what they have done with the trainer. In this way, knowledge begins to become consolidated, helping the learner to move towards Unconscious Competence.


I will put together some more posts soon on things like structuring a training course and on different methodologies i.e. and the Institutes of IT Training’s, TAP methodology.

Until next time …


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Reading Material

The best (training related) book I have ever read is Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century by Colin Rose. Here is a link:

Want to know more about how people learn and how to build rapport with your delegates then try this: