The Four Phases of Competence

The Four Phases of Competence, also known as the Four Phases of Learning is a learning model detailing the learning experience before it begins.


At this stage, the learner doesn’t realise what they know or how much they know. As they begin learning, they go through four psychological phases until they reach the last stage, unconscious competence.

These four stages allows teachers to understand the learning needs of their students, helping them to develop on their learning objectives. They can identify where the student is at using the four phases of competence and therefore provide help more efficiently.


Unconscious incompetence


In the first phase, the learner is unaware of the knowledge gap in what they are studying and consequently and do not have an in-depth knowledge.


Conscious incompetence


The student is now aware of what needs to be learned. They know there is a skill that needs to be acquired, so they are now ready to begin the learning process.


Conscious competence


At this point, the learner is becoming competent during their learning process of what is being taught. This stage, however, requires practice, attention and a willingness to learn.


Unconscious competence


The final stage is when the individual has enough knowledge. They have acquired the skills they need from the learning they have undergone. They are competent with what they have learnt, so much so that they can perform it unconsciously.



The Four Phases of Competence is useful to know about, as a learner or a teacher. It helps to understand of the emotional state of the individual who is learning.

Identifying the stage of learning that the student is at is beneficial to the learning process, for example, someone who is at the unconscious incompetence phase will have a different knowledge of the topic. This compares to someone in the later stages, like the conscious competence stage. If the individual hasn’t learnt the knowledge yet, they consequently won’t have an in-depth understanding of the subject. Contrastingly, someone at the conscious competence may need additional support, and nowhere near as much help as someone in the beginning phase.


To learn more about the Four Phases of Competence, read about it here.