3.2 Skills acquisition – the ‘conscious competence’ model
The phases in Reynolds’ model are not dissimilar to those described in the ‘conscious competence’ model: each model reflects a series of steps or routes through to possible competence. In this model, a significant feature is the focus on conscious as well as unconscious learning. Although the origins of the ‘conscious competence’ model are somewhat uncertain, the model remains essentially a very simple and helpful explanation of how we learn in stages. Very simply, learners are thought to begin their skill development at Stage 1 ('unconscious incompetence'), passing through Stage 2 ('conscious incompetence') and Stage 3 ('conscious competence'), ideally to reach Stage 4 (‘unconscious competence'). The simplicity of this model reinforces the need to ensure that as you work with students, you need to assess their stage of development rather than make ill-founded assumptions.
An article by Chapman (2015) suggests that learners will not be able to achieve ‘conscious competence’ until they have become consciously and fully aware of their own incompetence. It goes further to suggest that failing to recognise and respond to appropriate staged learning is the ‘fundamental reason for the failure of a lot of training and teaching’. The authors argue that it is essential to establish awareness of a weakness before attempting to begin training and move learners through the stages towards conscious competence. The authors argue, perhaps correctly, that people best respond to training when they are aware of their need for it and can see the personal benefit they will derive from achieving it. If you’d like to read the full article, it’s available.
Table 2 came from the article described above. You might be aware of other models presented in similar ways, such as the Johari Window – a tool that supports insight on levels of self-awareness. It is not appropriate to go into more detail about the Johari Window here, but a short article has been suggested as part of recommended reading for this week if you wish to follow this up further.
Table 2 Conscious competence matrix (Chapman, 2015)
Stage 3: Conscious competence
Stage 2: Conscious incompetence
Stage 4: Unconscious competence
Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence
Pause again now to reflect on the value and insight that this information might offer as you prepare yourself to support and develop others in a mentor role.
Activity 4 Applying the ‘Conscious competence’ model
Imagine you are working with a student who is on a pre-registration nursing programme. They have recently moved to your practice speciality and they have told you that they have little experience with many of the specialist skills that they expect to see. You seek to teach and evaluate their learning in a relevant clinical skill.
The skill you decide upon does not have to be highly complex; it could be, for example, blood pressure monitoring or undertaking nutritional assessments.
Once you have selected your teaching episode, complete Table 3 (which you can also download as a Word document) based on the conscious competence model to describe how you think the student might present at each stage of the model. Use the information presented in Table 2 above to guide your thinking if you consider this to be relevant. At each stage, identify strategies that you would use to move the student forward to the next stage where and when relevant.
Table 3 Reflections on the conscious competence model
|Stage of model||Anticipated behaviour of the learner||Your strategies for helping progress the development of the learner|
Let’s just look briefly at an example of two possible responses to this activity, with the assumption that you work with older people and that you have specialist interest in ensuring that individuals have access to, and receive, adequate nutrition. On this occasion you decide to teach the student about the importance of nutritional assessment and dietary management.
During Stage 1 (unconscious incompetence), you probably identified that you need to use time observing and questioning the student on what they do or don’t know. Fundamentally you find that at this stage, the student appears to know little about the special needs of the older person related to nutrition. You see no evidence of any assessment being undertaken on the suitability of food offered, nor of their health history, the condition of the mouth or any feeding challenges associated with impaired physical ability or weight. Your responsibilities at this stage are about ensuring public safety by effectively monitoring the student, offering instruction to aid teaching and (where necessary) intervening to promote timely evidence-based practises. At this stage you probably would have identified the need for timely feedback so that learning opportunities (which may not have been recognised by the student) are provided.
Moving to Stage 3 (conscious competence), you should have suggested that you would expect to see the student demonstrate effective skills in all areas related to nutritional assessment. At this stage, you might consider the student to be rather ‘rule-based’ than demonstrating the ability to practice spontaneously; but you are confident that they are safe. In terms of your role, rather than a teacher you probably saw yourself more as a facilitator who encourages the student to arrive at a place where these practices become so ingrained that they become normal activities requiring very little thinking.
You are likely to have ongoing opportunities throughout work and life that will inform your teaching and facilitation, and determine the ways that you choose to support the practices of others. The tools you have explored so far may provide you with a framework to support and develop others. This is a core activity of mentors, regardless of where you are practising your mentoring skills.
If you are studying this resource as part of an NMC mentor preparation programme, use the reflections from this activity as evidence towards demonstration of achievement of competencies in your practice portfolio on KG006 Facilitating learning in practice: mentorship portfolio assessment.
So far you have examined what your learning development looks like and thought about tools that help you break down and define how skills are developed. In Section 4 you will look at another model – that of Bloom – that again helps you to break down learning. Bloom’s model is an important one to examine, as many programmes of study use adapted versions of this model to construct learning outcomes. These form the basis of assessment and evaluation.