Friday, March 2, 2012

The Stages of Learning

I’m certified to teach a course in logic (troubleshooting/decision making) for a Global 500 company. I’m often struck by how the logic process we use helps me in the area of Faith & Reason. Part of the course introduction covers a learning process expressed in four stages that you’ll be hard pressed to find in any teaching handbooks, so you’re in for a rare treat with some serious spiritual connections. Let’s take a ride!
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence (I don’t know that I don’t know)
When my oldest daughter was six she was learning to ride a bike with no training wheels. My youngest daughter, who was three at the time, wanted to ride her big sister’s bike too. She asked me to put her on the bike. She would have gladly let me push her down the driveway and she would have crashed. She did not know…that she did not know how to ride a bike.
This can apply to the spiritual life as well. Your secular eye is working fine, but your spiritual eye is firmly shut (see post The Weak Eye). You were never taught spiritual things. You can make no sense of it; you have no sense of it and you do not care. Although your degree of guilt is less than one who knows, you will still receive some lashes from the master (see Luke 12:47-48). Ignorance is no excuse. Falling off a bike will hurt just the same whether one knows how to ride or not; whether one understands the danger or not. Have you ever met someone that doesn’t understand enough to be embarrassed? This too is unconscious incompetence.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence (I know that I don’t know)
Let’s say I did send my three year old careening down the driveway on the bike to crash and then I asked, “Would you like to try that again?” She would now say, “No!” At that point she would know that she does not know how to ride a bike.
Spiritually, you may know that you are living more for yourself than for God. Sin is essentially a refusal to let God have His way in your life and you have a sense that you’re doing this. You know deep down you are more interested in what you want (an agenda) than what is right or what is true. You know you fall short, but don’t know what to do about it. You know that you don’t know. Unfortunately, it often it takes a hard crash in life to get to stage 2.
Stage 3: Conscious Competence (I know, but I need to concentrate)
Let’s go back to my oldest daughter when she first learned to ride the bike. She could clearly ride, but had difficulty starting and stopping by herself. She had to concentrate; any crack or bump in the sidewalk would send her to the ground. Turning sharp corners was a problem. Any kind of obstacle was a problem. She also did not steer very straight, often falling in the grass. No matter; she still kept trying.
So too can be the spiritual life. You succumb to habitual sin. Even small obstacles or annoyances can throw you off the spiritual path, but you persist and keep getting back up to ride further on your journey. You strive for holiness. You know what to do, but it’s a struggle and you need to stay focused.
Stage 4: Unconscious Competence (I just do it naturally)
My older son has been riding a bike for years. He is by no means perfect and could still fall when careless, however, he does not think about the mechanics of riding a bike any longer. He just hops on and takes off.
The spiritual life becomes more contemplative. You know who you are and where you are going, although you must not be careless. You have an awareness of God’s presence everywhere, almost all the time. The will is strong and the intellect is clear. Prayer requires fewer words, but more time. Virtue grows leaving little room for vice. The glory of God is seen in YOU being fully alive......Ride on!

Become unconsciously competent.



  1. Do you have any books that you would recommend on logic and reasoning? I have been on a hunt for one but haven't found any that satisfy.

    1. For the business world I highly recommend a book called The New Rational Manager by Charles H. Kepner & Benjamin B. Tregoe. For spiritual reasoning, I recommend anything by Catholic theologian Frank Sheed. He writes with what I like to call devastating logic. His book Theology & Sanity about knocked me off of my reading chair. I also recommend Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy

      Joe, what say you?

    2. You hit it on the head. Chesterton writes almost everything and ends as if to say "how obvious was that?" Frank Sheed's Theology for Beginners was an eye opener for me as well. It is a wonderful book on metaphysics and how it all fits together logically.

  2. I spent several years reading Carl G Jung, and am often reminded in Counseling practice that a person must be on step 1 of knowing before he can understand step 2, likewise, he must be on step 2 before being to understand step 3, and so on.
    AND: No one will take a chance to get to the next step unless his model (usually YOU) is continuing his growth.
    Jung is deep and often heretical; however, his study of learning bears reading.

    1. Thanks for your input Father! I'll need to look up Carl G Jung.