Unconscious Competence LO20002

Leslie Lax (leslax@cnx.net)
Wed, 25 Nov 1998 12:00:15 -0800

Replying to LO19994 --

Hi Margaret,

I think I partly replied to this in my reply to LO19991.
[I replied and sent off the message before reading LO19994 - I guess this is
one of the things I can do more slowly ;-) ]

You wrote:
>Truthfully, I hadn't considered whether it's serial or parallel and what
>that would look like an the pros and cons. Do you have an opinion? I
>think for it to be parallel, it would require multiple roles at the same
>time because if it is the same person, the attention would get split and
>that would reduce the effectiveness in both domains - performing and

I had envisaged the process as parallel, but now (thanks to your question)
think it has to be allowed to be both serial and parallel (this fits in
very nicely with my general approach of fuzzy thinking). I will explain.
It seems to me that learning must be a continual discontinuous process.
As you point out - a parallel process would reduce the effectiveness in
both domains. And I think that this does happen. I have not researched
the area, and have only a sample of one experience to draw on... (not very
scientific, is it?).

I will use my typing (keyboarding) competence to explain.

I learned to type on a now antique Underwood typewriter that I bought at a
garage sale during my first year at university. Typed assignments were
not necessary, but my handwriting had never matured into something
universally legible, so typing assignments was an exciting opportunity
(conscious incompetence). However, in this situation, prior to receiving
feedback on my first written assignment, I had no desire to learn to type,
and was thus unconsciously incompetent. Now, I should note that even
though I was aware of typewriters, my incompetence was unconscious because
without the need (driven by either inner quest for experience or
"necessity") to type, I could not be conscious of my incompetence. There
was just no impetus for situation improvement.

Now, when I wrote, "learned to type", I must admit to being at a very low
level of competence. Most folks would, I believe, take a typing course
and learn to touch type. I just took to the typewriter, with two fingers
and banged away at getting my assignments done. Much tipex (white-out)
and many pages later, I was typing reasonably competently and accurately.
The process was made easier by the circumstance. Much of what I was
typing came from within my head, so there was little need for copy typing,
and therefore the benefit of touch typing (not looking at the keys) was
limited. So, in this situation, I was both competent, and learning. I
often was in the groove - typing to the best of my ability, but getting
better through practice. I believe that this is a situation of both
unconscious competence (I was not frustrated by my typing) but also aware
over time of becoming a better typing (thus, on becoming aware of these
changes, I was learning). Further, I soon realised that I was now using
three fingers and a thumb. (Realisation of conscious competence).

After graduating, I worked in an environment where I was required to
transcribe a fair amount of written material. (Another peek in my
character. We did have typists/secretaries to do typing, but they were
very overloaded and typing up reports myself made the process quicker and
helped me to internalise and refine arguments/conclusions in the process.)
It soon became apparent that I needed to be able to read at the same time
as typing - hence the "need" for touch typing. I now moved again to
conscious incompetence. Trying to change from my three finger and a thumb
visual typing to 8 fingers and two thumbed touch typing decreases my
competence during the beginning of a learning process. I started to type
more slowly, with more errors. But, I did learn to use more fingers and
the key placement on the keyboard that was fairly well etched into my
brain (unconscious competence) became more deeply burned.

However, I gave up after some weeks. Projects were mounting up, I was
losing family time trying to keep up, and my assessment of the benefit and
costs of continued learning (in this particular sphere) led me to abandon
the process. But note: at this stage I had migrated to five fingers and
a thumb, had a much clearer image of the keyboard and was typing at
greater speed and accuracy than before I tried to learn to touch type.
Continuing in this vein, I often reach a level of unconscious competence -
especially when typing. And in thinking about this experience, I must
admit to some conscious competence.

The story (apologies for its length) illustrates for me the seriality
discontinuity of learning) as well as the parallelness of the two domains
(competence and learning). Where they are truly parallel, competence
declines, but I am not sure that learning does.

But, in true gatherer fashion, I think I am learning something new in
writing this. Learning is a process, while conscious competence etc.,
are, I think, more like instances than states. And, I could perhaps
experience most of these instances while continuing the learning process.

So, at the same time as I understand I could be better (conscious
incompetence), I am a competent typist (conscious competence) and when I
am typing I get in a groove (unconscious competence). I do think that
when performing, conscious learning is held in abeyance. However, I also
believe that the experience of the performance is new data for me to make
meaning of later, upon reflection. While this seldom happens for me while
typing, it does happen for me on the squash court. When I am playing
well, I do not think how I can improve my game. But, when l am not
playing well (and losing) I must consciously think about where I am, how I
play the stroke, which stroke to play, etc. When in the groove, these
things happen automatically. I usually then only reflect after the game,
not during it.

I hope this makes some sense to you.

Still learning,



Leslie Lax Kelowna BC

e-mail: leslax@cnx.net web: http://members.cnx.net/leslax

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