Unconscious Incompetence Conscious Incompetence Conscious Competence Unconscious Competence
(Naivety) (Discovery & Commitment) (Practice!) (Mastery)
Recently I was introduced to Abraham Maslow’s “Four Stages of Learning”, an educational theory that describes the learning process, beginning with Unconscious Incompetence where the student is blithely unaware of what they don’t know (think the “ignorance is bliss” stage) and culminating with the Unconscious Competence level where the skill mastered is so automatic that you no longer need to think about it. I was intrigued to discover this philosophy of learning and pondered its relevance with regard to training dressage riders. Can, and do, riders embrace the idea of being incompetent and acknowledge that the art of dressage requires them to submit time and again to this cycle, from ingénue to mentor, as they journey forward toward their riding goals?
This fascinating look at how students progress from the total naivety of Stage 1 to discovery and awareness in Stage 2, where now they “know what they don’t know” and understand that change needs to occur, seems to me to unmistakably describe dressage riders as they train their way up the levels. During the Conscious Incompetence phase, they recognize the value of the skill that they need to acquire, for example, the student knows that her inside leg needs to remain firm and quiet at the girth, but is frustrated in her attempts to keep it there. Committing to learning that skill (“my naughty left leg must remain correctly anchored under my left seat bone”) then leads to Stage 3 or Conscious Competence, where the student actively works at developing the necessary skill. In Stage 3 the student can perform the skill without assistance, but still requires reminders from her instructor and concerted thought and effort are needed to perform the skill correctly. At last Stage 4, Unconscious Competence dawns, where the skill is now second nature and the correct response automatic. Mastery has occurred and the student is capable of not only demonstrating, but teaching her new skill.
As an enthusiastic life-long learner, I find Maslow’s Four Stages of Learning rather comforting as they apply to dressage. They reassure me that with persistent practice, todays skill drills will finally be mastered (yea!) and then new skills that I currently can’t even glimpse, will present themselves for me to stretch toward. In essence, a never ending cycle of discovery, learning and mastery that promises a new challenge is always waiting. It appears then that this dressage stuff could keep me busy for a lifetime – and that’s not such a bad way to spend one’s life now, is it?
Susan Moody, IEO President