The 5 Stages of Learning

A while back, I posted on the four stages of learning, illustrated as follows:

Fortune Magazine, however, sagely points out that

“. . . excellence can’t be reduced to some simplistic four-level hierarchy. It has five levels.”

Fortune Magazine presents essentially the above model, with an additional fifth level of becoming consciously aware of what has been internalised and developing the ability to tweak and evolve it, and to explain it to others to help others achieve it:

. . . if you’re, say, a NASCAR driver, you don’t want to drive on automatic. You want control of every nuance – which brings us to level five: Conscious Excellence. At this rarefied place, you use your conscious mind to deconstruct and modulate the elements of your performance. (There’s nothing simpler than running – unless you’re a sprinter who takes years to shave a second off her time.) This also means you can explain it to others – something that level four achievers cannot do.

For good measure, the article presents a pitfall: after reaching the fifth level, the analysis and breaking down of performance can lead to a degradation or collapse of performance. The author suggests we call it “Overconscious Incompetence.”

Incidentally, the Fortune Magazine article attributes this four stages of learning model to psychologist Thomas Gordon, around three decades ago. However, a bit of hunting around on the internet reveals that there appears to be quite a bit more to the story. In particular, the Gordon Training Institute (GTI) itself suggests that the model was developed by former GTI employee Noel Burch over 30 years ago. However, it is not clear to what extent Burch developed his model independently or drawing on other sources or in parallel with similar models. Various suggestions are available as to earlier models and parallel trails of thought that Burch may have sourced. See also some discussion here.

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