The Four Stages of Learning // Why ‘End Gaming’ is Not A Good Idea
Foreword by Preston Kanak: The learning process is a very personal one and there are many obstacles to overcome along the way. Believing that one can specialize without practice is desired by many but as everyone knows, perfection takes hard work and dedication. One such person who is on a journey of learning is Chris Du’Mont who believes that, “we are all on different journeys and (it is imperative to) trust that the work we are putting in will one day ferment into something we are truly proud of”.
In this article, Chris walks us through the four stages of learning and discusses why end gaming is not a good idea.
Increasingly so, it’s becoming more common for people to have multiple strings to their bow. I trained as an actor and this has been my passion for years. However, not long after leaving drama school, I inadvertently unlocked a passion for filmmaking. I have felt for some time now that I have to make a choice of which one to pursue as “surely I can’t do both”. After speaking to numerous friends who unanimously said “it’s fine to pursue both, why make a choice now when you don’t know where they will take you,” I decided to take a step back, relieving the pressure I was putting on myself to make a choice of one discipline to pursue. Thinking deeper about this, I realised that multiple public figures throughout time have done various jobs/disciplines all at once and done them well. The french playwright Molière for example was a playwright, a director, an actor, producer in the 17th Century so why do we put pressure on ourselves to do just one thing nowadays? Looking back now, this self applied pressure has been only hindering my development in both disciplines.
Taking all this into consideration… and accepting that for the foreseeable future, I will now be pursuing both in what will be a lifelong journey of learning. I started to look at how the learning path of one could benefit the other.
When I was at drama school, I remember having a conversation with one of my tutors about “end gaming”. I was frustrated with myself because I couldn’t see results happening after 3 months of my 3 year course! Ridiculous looking back at it now. My tutor told me that it was essential to set points to hit consistently in my development. He said, “targets are great, they are needed consistently throughout life as a measure of how well we are performing, essential to improving. However, when learning, especially something that is vocational, trying to “end game” all the time or reach these targets only serves to block you by the added pressure you apply to yourself and by trying to achieve results that just might not be possible at this stage in your development. Allowing yourself to TRUST what your learning is being retained in someway and that you are consistently developing your skill set, sometimes without seeing results, is often what we have to do in order to achieve our best.”
We continued this dialog as I wanted to ensure I completely understood this concept. As the conversation continued, he started to describe the 4 stages of learning and it all began to fall into place.
The 4 stages of learning was developed in the 1970′s and sets out a structure of our development in learning. I’ll try to set out the stages below and link them to me as an example.
Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence.
This is the first stage of learning. You’ve decided that you want to learn a skill but you’re unable to recognise the weaknesses in what you’re doing. For me this stage started when I was doing school plays at secondary school and amateur dramatics. I would learn my lines and just go for it, no understanding beyond intuitively doing it. My parents would then come to me after and say “well done! You were great” which probably made me believe I was better than I actually was. I treasure those memories and by no means denounce them as thats where my passion was formed and the nice comments were essential to give me the confidence to pursue auditioning at drama school for two years. It was essential up until the point of going to drama school where due to the environment, I very quickly moved onto stage 2 realising that actually I wasn’t very good. Moving to stage 2 isn’t something that happens immediately. This transition is different for everyone and in the case of studying at an institution, it’s very much dependant on the course and foundations of the school. Where I went, you were made aware of your weaknesses very quickly. It was a case of, “your talent got you this far, but that won’t get you further, being aware of your faults and building on that talent will… now let’s expose your weaknesses”.
Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence.
Conscious Incompetence is when you recognise your weaknesses which in turn, allows you to start addressing them. However, this is not the stage where you will see the results that you aspire for. There will be times of success and that’s great for the occasional boost but this success is inconsistent. In fact this stage is littered in failures — which isn’t a bad thing. In the process of learning, I would confidently say that being aware of your failures is the only way to improve. I recently read somewhere that failure is not the opposite of success. Doing nothing is the opposite of success, failure is just part of the learning.
In my case, drama school was a place where I was able to start the long journey of addressing these weaknesses by exploring a number of methods (tools) that I would be able to carry in my “toolbox” and apply when necessary in the future. I didn’t get passed this stage overnight and it is unlikely that you would either. Before talking with my tutor, I thought I was capable of moving beyond this stage overnight (without being aware of the stages), or at least I expected that to happen. Instead I learned quickly that this just wasn’t possible. It was no good just knowing what I should be doing, I had to work on it to the point where it became part of me, where I moved onto the next stage naturally.
Stage 3 – Conscious Competence.
In this stage, you are becoming or have become proficient in the skill you’re learning. However, it takes an amount of concentration for you to do it.
Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence.
In this stage you are so proficient in the skill you’re doing that it becomes “second nature” to you. You’re able to do it unconsciously, potentially even performing a second task at the same time.
Now you may have noticed that I didn’t give a personal explanation on stage 3 and 4. The reason for this (linking back to acting for me) is that I personally feel they go together hand in hand. For example, I may learn my lines to the point where I can unconsciously recite them but in the instant where the actor opposite dries, I would absolutely be in stage 3 because I would be concentrating in order to get through the challenging situation. Again though this is fine as providing I have done the work, I can TRUST that it is there.
I didn’t reach a level of conscious competence (stage 3) until my third year at drama school and even then it was inconsistent. It took me two years of 60 hours a week to get to that point. However, even after all this training, I still find myself falling back into stage 2 after an awful audition. However, with the tools I have learnt along the way I am able to take a step back and look at my incompetences and improve.
So, in conclusion, what I have learnt at this stage in my other passion (acting), I am able to apply directly to my development in filmmaking. I would definitely say that’s allowed me to develop quicker than It would if I had been “end gaming” since picking up a camera. Especially when you are surrounded by people creating incredible work. It’s essential that you don’t end game. It’s okay to have goals but it is key to acknowledge that we are all on different journeys and trust that the work we are putting in will one day ferment into something we are truly proud of with a huge amount of competence.