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Do You Think You Are Still Learning?

Consciously or sub-consciously we are all capable of learning throughout our life span. However, some learn more or faster than others. What really triggers this conscious learning? It is the realisation of a gap. This, in turn means accepting that we don’t know something.

My niece is due to turn one in another 3 months and watching her transform has sort of become our favourite pastime. Observing her has also made us quite aware of our own selves. There is so much one can learn from observing a tiny baby and its activities. Little Natasha is now ready to stand up. She is eight and a half months old and she has dragged her tiny body around, supporting herself on her palms and knees for almost two whole months now. We are afraid she will soon stand up and begin walking.

Observing her does pose an interesting question: Is Natasha aware of her own learning competencies. The answer is ‘yes’. Studies have suggested that a lot of learning takes place during the first year of our life and this learning is primarily acquired through observing our own body movements as well as those of others.

Looking at Natasha also helped us reflect on our own learning styles. Most often, we, like Natasha tend to remain in the ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ phase wherein we are not aware that we need to inculcate a new skill. During her crawling phase, Natasha does not know if she can walk. She is unconscious of her inability, probably because she has never even attempted walking or even standing. Eventually, she will observe that others tend to be quicker than her because they walk on their two feet. Here begins the second phase of her learning which is ‘Conscious Incompetence’- an awareness of her inability to walk. This awareness might prompt her to attempt standing up. When she is in this second phase, she will have quite a number of falls but she will eventually learn to stand up. In our case, when we realize that acquiring a particular skill will benefit us, we become aware of our incompetence and then we start working towards developing this new skill.

After a lot of practice, Natasha, quite like us, reaches the third phase which is called ‘Conscious Competence’. In this phase, Natasha is able to stand up and she also becomes aware of her ability to stand. However, a lot of effort is still expended by Natasha as well as us when it comes to putting this newly acquired skill to use.

Learning comes a full cycle once we reach the fourth and final stage of learning which is called ‘Unconscious Competence’. At this stage, Natasha is able to stand up without much effort and is able to also walk whilst holding on to other objects for support. At this juncture, she has begun using her acquired skill unconsciously and is gearing up to acquire more new skills. In our case, when we use the newly acquired skill with ease and without expending any effort, we have reached a stage of Unconscious Competence. In fact, this new skill is now at our disposal and we again gear up to acquire something new. So people who constantly put themselves in new situations or take up new challenges tend to learn a lot more than people who never deviate from their routine and comfort zone.

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