Professional Development via the learning pyramid

Learning Pyramid

Great managers create a culture of professional and personal development

A great manager should create a culture of professional and personal development within their team. A culture within which each team member strives to be the very best version of themselves. One where sharpening their saw each and everyday becomes a habit. However when pushing oneself forward it is also important to know where you are at, i.e. knowing in which micro skill or ability area you need to work on most.

It is important to know which micro skill areas you need to improve.

A very useful way to analyse quickly where you (and your team members) are at and how much development work you, and they, still have to do is using the learning pyramid. The first important thing to bear in mind, when using the learning pyramid on yourself or applying it in feedback given to others, is to use it applied to micro skills or attitudes over applying it to the macro. For example, “being a great teacher” is a macro outcome but: “classroom control”, “effective board work”, “use of awards and incentives” are all micro skills that determine whether you are successful in the macro goal of being a great teacher.

learning pyramid

The pyramid is broken up into 4 stages each of which forms a learning stage – level – in which someone is at in a micro skill.  Those in stage 1 “Unconscious incompetence” have no awareness (or no acceptance) of the fact they do not have, or are not utilizing, a certain skill. So for example in the case of “awards and incentives”, this would be a teacher who has not yet connected the importance of rewarding students has to ensuring a good learner attitude in the classroom. As a result of this their students are less motivated and participate less and most likely the teacher has less effective classroom control. A great manager’s role in stage 1 is to to identify this “ignorance” and find an effective acceptable way of bringing this up with the staff member so that they wish to move onto the learning/action stage 2.

Stage 1 is when you don’t know you don’t know and a manger’s job is to make a staff member aware of their “ignorance”.

Stage 2 “Conscious Incompetence” is when someone is aware of their lack of skill or effective knowledge in a certain area but do not yet know how to gain or implement this skill. For me this is “action” or “learning stage” one where gaining additional knowledge is critical to improving one’s performance in the set skill. So taking our example of “rewards and incentives”, this would be the teacher researching effective classroom rewards and incentives for their teaching environment and then learning how to use them to motivate and gain greater classroom control. The great manager’s role in stage 2 is to be the educator or enabler i.e. the person who provides the framework for the staff member to learn the things needed, either through teaching them or through enabling them development time so they can self-learn.

Stage 2 is when you know you don’t know and a manager’s job here is to provide the framework for the staff to get this knowledge.

Stage 3: “Conscious Competence” is when the person understands the components of the skill set and is using the skill but they have to think about it each time and hence are not yet applying it instinctively. So in the case of our example, this is a teacher using their star charts with younger children and applying them correctly to motivate the class but they do it through a structured pre-set way, not one yet happening with free synergy. It is probable in this case that the teacher is not yet able to distinguish the difference between the “means”, the use of the star chart”, from the “ends”, motivation and control, and hence may have less instinct for whether the “means” stops achieving the “ends” which can happen.  It is the great manager’s job here to remind the staff member there is a further stage to seek.

Stage 3 is when you know but you have to think about it and managers here need to remind that mastery only exists when you start doing it instinctively.

Stage 4: “Un-conscious Competence” is when you know what you need to know and know how to implement it but no longer need to think about how to do it.  In a simple sense this is process of a great speech being delivered without the speaker needing to look at paper, nor setting specifically what they will say. The words no longer need to be “thought about”, they exist by themselves. In our example this would be a teacher who identifies with the “ends”, motivation and control, and can implement multiple means to get there, adjusting to moods and student personalities, and they don’t need to think about the process of doing it, they have ability to react this skill set to specific scenario no matter what it be. A great manager’s role in stage 4 is encouraging as much usage of this skill as possible but it also important to remind the staff member that “mastery” is never fixed, it is always transitory, and will only ever be maintained by continuous sharpening of the saw.

Stage 4: is when you know but no longer need to think about it and a great manager harnesses the usage of this mastery to the benefit of the whole team.

So when working towards being the very best manager you can be, remember that cause macro goals are achieved by micro skills and attitudes, it is critical to have some form of identifying both where you and your team are in those micro skills. The learning pyramid is a great way of doing this as when you see things in stages you can correctly identify the action needed to push to the next level. So from now when you sense you or you staff need to improve in a concrete tasks, breakdown what skill is needed and then work out where you or they are at in the learning pyramid in that skill and then provide the support and management that specific stage needs.

Great managers know where they and their staff are on the learning pyramid in micro skills.

What to do?

Think of a micro skill for which you are at each of the 4 levels i.e.  for “stage 1”: a skill or attitude you only recently became aware that you needed and didn’t have. For stage 2: one where you are right now working out how to get better in it but haven’t yet achieved that. Then for stage 3 one where you know you have it well established but aren’t yet a master and then finally one which you feel you already master.  Once you have done that think of examples for that micro skill for each of the parts, i.e. following my “rewards and incentives” example above. For stages above, think what you need to do and for stages behind think what you did do and what you would advise others to do in order to follow the success you had.  After you have done this for yourself, try doing the same process for a staff member who is on stage 1 for a micro skill.

Learning Pyramid


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