Conscious Competence Model of Learning


Four Stages of Competence


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 territory/area/domain/field (typically involving challenge)
  • Knowing is … attaining a goal
  • Learner is … a seeker (individual)
  • Learning is … journeying (arriving at, reaching, progressing, accomplishing, achieving)
  • Teaching is … leading, guiding, directing, facilitating




The Conscious Competence Learning Model interprets the movement from unskilled to skilled in terms of four discrete stages. Initially, in the unconscious incompetence stage, learners are unaware of the area of skill and/or their incompetence in the area. As they develop an awareness of their lack of skill or understanding, they enter the conscious incompetence stage. As they learn and develop some level of fluency, they move through the conscious competence stage. Eventually, some develop unconscious competence and are able to use the skill without thinking about it.


Authors and/or Prominent Influences

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.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Conscious Competence Model of Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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