Youth Work and Unconscious Competence

I blogged before about how Mark from the youth group had said with genuine incredulity, “You don’t have to know anything to be a youth worker!” I still laugh about this! Having been involved in some interviews yesterday I was thinking again about knowledge and skills, especially how we know what we know and how we identify what we don’t know!
There’s a brilliant summary of four stages of learning that’s really helpful on recognising how we develop, it runs through four steps as below:
Unconscious incompetence
We don’t know what we don’t know, we do a job not recognising what we are lacking
Conscious incompetence
We start to realise where things are not going well, things that could be done better. We recognise that we could improve, we see skills that we need to acquire.
Conscious competence
We acquire skills and abiliies through training, reflection and experience. We deliberately employ these in order to do the job well.
Unconscious competence
At this stage we have so absorbed the learning and experience that we deploy it without conscious thought, it becomes the obvious thing to do.
This model identifies a danger. If you have reached level four in a particular area it has become akin to “common sense” for you, you may forget that what seems obvious to you is not obvious!
I like to think this is why Mark thought that Youth Workers didn’t need to know anything 🙂

3 Replies to “Youth Work and Unconscious Competence”

  1. I have come across these 4 stages before, the danger of course comes in that when we reach stage 4, we become complacent and eventually almost stale which in tern leads us back to stage 1, each stage, if we are truly competent should therefore only be a temporary state in an on going circle!

  2. I’ve noticed how much I am at both stage one and four at teh same time, particularly now that I am teaching youth work at the local university. I find myself writing a complete curriculum based on things I can remember learning while I was a student, but it’s lacking all the thigns I’ve learned from experience as a youth worker, because I can’t remember when how or by whom I learned those skills.
    I find myself backtracking along old projects of mine, working out on paper how i did those projects setep-by-stpe, until I come across a learning I had to acquire, and then focus on teaching that.
    It’s so painful.

  3. ian, thank you for that humourous summary
    i have to write about learning and assessment and i met the stages before but they didn’t come alive like you made them do…. 🙂
    it’s true; so much of what our competent practitioners do is common sense {to us} that it’s easy to feel surrounded by fools when given yet another new starter. yet we were all new once!

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