Conscious Competence Model of Learning


Conscious Competence Ladder/Matrix/Model
Four Stages of Competence/Learning
Ladder of Learning
Learning Matrix


Moving from being unaware and unskilled to being effortless and skilled competencies

Principal Metaphors

Metaphors associated with learning are not explicitly stated within the Conscious Competence Learning Model. In our analysis, the Attainment Metaphor serves as the figurative ground of the model:
  • Knowledge is … a competence (typically involving challenge)
  • Knowing is … manifesting competence
  • Learner is … a climber (individual)
  • Learning is … climbing; passing levels (arriving at, reaching, progressing, accomplishing, achieving)
  • Teaching is … leading, guiding, orienting, facilitating




The Conscious Competence Learning Model interprets the movement from unskilled to skilled in terms of four discrete stages:
  • Unconscious Incompetence – being unaware of an area or skill and/or not being aware of one's lack of competence in an area or skill. Unconscious Incompetence is associated with poor intuitions in relation to that area or skill.
  • Conscious Incompetence – being consciously aware of one’s lack of skill or understanding in relation to a specific area or skill. Conscious Incompetence is often marked by poor analytical abilities in the area.
  • Conscious Competence – having some level of fluency with a specific area or skill, along with some level of awareness of one’s level of (in)ability. Conscious Competence is associated with the development of sound analytic skills in the area.
  • Unconscious Competence – being fluent in an area or able to use a skill without having to devote much conscious attention to it. Unconscious Competence is associated with reliable intuitions in relation to the area or skill.


Sometimes arriving to the Conscious Competence level – that is, becoming aware that one is capable – has a feeling of suddenness to it. While such experiences are not formally part of the Conscious Competence Model of Learning, they are frequently highlighted as critical moments of learning:
  • Aha! Moment (Aha Experience; Aha Reaction; Eureka Effect; Eureka Moment) – an emotionally charged moment in which one suddenly recognizes a significant improvement in understanding. Associated constructs include:
    • Eureka Task – a problem designed to afford insight into the Aha! Moment
    • Inspiration – in Cognitive Psychology, an Aha! Moment
    • Sudden Insight – an abrupt, often unexpected realization of the truth and/or complexity of a situation


The Conscious Competence Learning Model has been subject to relatively few criticisms – perhaps because it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. That is, it does not purport to tell learners or teachers what to do, it offers an after-the-fact interpretation of very different modes of competence that learners pass through.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Martin M. Broadwell

Status as a Theory of Learning

The Conscious Competence Learning Model is a descriptive theory of learning, offering a typology of distinct modes of skillful action and awareness associated with developing competence.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

The Conscious Competence Learning Model has is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Proponents of the Conscious Competence Learning Model tend to be inattentive to the metaphors of learning that they invoke, and consequently most prominent descriptions of the theory read like pop psychology. The perspective can be made to align with more robust perspectives on learning, but uneven (and oftentimes indefensible) descriptions render it inappropriate to describe the model as scientific. That said, the Conscious Competence Learning Model has recently gained some empirical support from Cognitive Science and Neuroscience research.


  • Aha! Moment (Aha Experience; Aha Reaction; Eureka Effect; Eureka Moment)
  • Conscious Competence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Eureka Task
  • Inspiration
  • Sudden Insight
  • Unconscious Competence
  • Unconscious Incompetence

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Conscious Competence Model of Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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