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Four Stages of Learning
Austin Milonga

The Four Stages of Learning

When learning a new tango skill, a student must transition through four different stages to achieve mastery. At first the student doesn’t even realize there is a problem and, unfortunately, is in the first stage, unconscious incompetence.

Once the student understands the problem then the student has successfully transitioned to the next stage of learning, conscious incompetence. The student is doing it wrong, and the student is completely, and often painfully, aware they are doing it wrong.

After learning how to perform the skill correctly, the student then repeatedly practices the new skill with concentrated effort.  At this point the student is in the next stage, conscious competence. There is no longer a problem, so long as the student does not lose focus. If awareness is lost, then the student goes back to stage one until something reminds the student of the problem. Or the student falls back to the second stage if they are unable to remember how to correct the problem.

At some point, after the student has practiced repeatedly and correctly for a period of time, the new skill becomes a habit. The student does not need to focus on the effort and the student achieves mastery, unconscious competence.

Tips for Tangueros

Take and review notes. Write down what you learn in class and review your notes often to avoid the unconscious incompetence stage. Pay particular attention when the teacher gives you specific feedback. As a teacher, I try to dance with every single student in my classes and give them specific information for how they can personally improve their dance.

Perfect practices makes perfect. Doing it perfectly once isn’t enough. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practices makes perfect. This is where private lessons are very helpful. An experienced teacher will help the student regain focus when awareness is lost. In addition, the teacher can also give positive and negative reinforcement, which helps the student perform the skill competently. This allows the student to remain in the conscious competence stage for longer periods of time instead of falling to the lower stages.

Limit your practice. When learning a new skill, more time spent in the conscious competence stage is most beneficial. For this reason practice only one skill at a time to help maintain correct focus. Add additional skills only if awareness and correct effort can be maintained with the first skill.

Use a practice buddy. During a practica, have a partner help you maintain focus when practicing a new skill. Come with an agenda of skills to work on during the practice dance and make sure your partner knows how to help. Give them specific things they can do to assist you with learning the new skill.

Allow for remembrance. When assisting a partner, give them a chance to reclaim their awareness. Let them perform the skill a few times incorrectly and then gently bring the issue back to their awareness. It can be frustrating for some people when they are overcorrected or over taught. Have a dialog to determine what will help your partner more quickly and effectively learn their new skill.

Share a tip!  What has been most affective for you to transition through the four stages of learning?  Join the discussion on Facebook and let us know!

Stephen Shortnacy teaches and performs Argentine tango in Austin and throught out Texas.