Burn them before they learn it and the Four Stages of Learning

There are a few gifted individuals who naturally grasp the details of finance, strategy, and leadership – the core subjects covered during a business simulation exercise. For the rest of us, we study and learn by doing.

During a business simulation exercise, you’ll find that some participants are unaware of their lack of understanding/knowledge of the aforementioned topics. This is referred to as Unconscious Incompetence in the Four Stages of Learning Framework.

Four Stages of Learning

This model was introduced by Management trainer Martin M. Broadwell in 1969. It explains the psychological states involved in learning. Wikipedia

When a participant is in Unconscious Incompetence, it is hard to open his mind to learning. He can’t do anything to improve until he reaches the next stage – Conscious Incompetence. In Conscious Incompetence, a participant has realized he doesn’t know or understand as much as he had thought about a topic. However, the participant is open to looking for help. It is at this stage when instructors can work with the individual to help him better understand a subject and clarify any questions. In other words, the individual is now ready to learn.

To move a participant from Unconscious Competence to Conscious Incompetence he must realize the value of the topic or skill to be learned. But how do Instructors communicate that value? The answer is to have participants practice the concept before you teach it. We call this process “Burn them before they learn it!” It sounds counterproductive, but is highly effective. Here are a few examples:

  • A quiz at the beginning of the class – It turns out that when you ask participants a few well-chosen business and finance questions, they quickly realize this topic might require more of their attention than previously thought.
  • Business Simulation Practice Round – Ask participants to make a set of practice decisions in the simulation before covering major topics. This will help them realize what their blind spots are in their understanding of business.

By the end of any business simulation exercise, the aim is to take participants to the third stage of learning – Conscious Competence. In this stage, participants have a holistic business perspective. They have experienced, measured, and reviewed business ideas and assessed the impact on the company. Participants can’t reach this level without opening their minds to learning. It all starts with simple, yet powerful, quizzes and exercises before major teaching/simulation sections in your agenda. These will prime your participants to absorb the learning offered to them throughout the rest of your simulation exercise.

P.S. By the way, reaching the fourth level in the pyramid – Unconscious Competence is homework. Is up to participants to have the concepts learned become second nature in their day-to-day.