Why trainers need to adapt their training style

How well your team learns, depends on how well you can identify what they know and can do and then adapt your training style. 


When adults learn new skills or refine existing ones, they go through 4 learning stages. Each of these stages has two measures. 

  • Awareness – The level of conscious thought on a skill
  • Ability – The level that something can be done.

The ‘Awareness to Ability Learning Model’ also referred to as the Conscious Competence Model demonstrates how each employee goes through the different stages from becoming aware to being able. 

  • Stage 1 - Unable & Unaware - During this stage, an individual lacks the awareness of the skills, knowledge or ability they need to do a certain task. They just don’t know they don’t know
  • Stage 2 - Unable & Aware - During this stage, the induvial becomes aware of their lack of knowledge and skill and ability to do the task.  They now know what they don’t know
  • Stage 3 - Able & Aware - Through practice and repetition the individual develops the essential knowledge and skills to do the task. However, progress is slow and requires a lot of effort and thought. They know what they know and can do
  • Stage 4 - Able & Unaware – In time and after repeated use, the individual can now complete the task without having to think about it (as if on auto pilot).  They are no longer consciously aware of what they known or what they can do.

This is a continuous cycle, and as the employee achieves 4th stage (Able and Unaware), they become good at the task and this then enables them to be able to find more complex tasks to learn.  

Example – Learning how to use a new Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) for processing sales 

Stage 1 - Unable & Unaware

Before seeing the programme in action, the employee/s are unaware of the software’s functions or how it works. 

Stage 2 - Unable & Aware

After attending a training session, employees become aware of the computer programme and its features and functions. They become aware of it but do not know how to use it.

Stage 3 - Able & Aware

After having a chance to practice employees are now able to use some of the functions of the EPOS, however, these take time and effort to do and progress is generally slow.

Stage 4 - Able & Unaware

After using the software daily, employees become both very competent and confident using the EPOS. The employee can use the general features of the programme with minimal thought, completing tasks with ease, almost as though they are on auto pilot.

The irony of bad habits 

However, there is an irony for employees if they develop bad habits along this journey.  As they reach the 4thstage (Able and Unaware), if they are not made aware of their bad habits and the impact they have, then they slip back into stage 1 (Unable and Unaware). Here they will need to learn how to stop doing the bad habits and exchange them for good ones.

How trainers can support their teams through each of the stages

As each employee progresses through the learning stages, the workplace trainer’s role must adapt from ‘tell and direct’ activities to, ‘asking and guiding’.    

  • Tell & Direct – The trainer needs to give clear and simple instructions, demonstrations and time provide additional support with manuals or how to guides.
  • Ask & Guide – The trainer takes on a coaching role by asking questions that encourage performance or challenge negative behaviours and attitudes.

The trainer's role through each of the learning stages

Tips for the 4 stages of learning:

  • Employees will progress through each of the stages at different speeds based on their current ability and experience.
  • Employees will become most frustrated as they progress from Stage 2 ‘Unable & Aware’, and Stage 3 ‘Able & Aware’.
  • Remind employees it is 'ok' to make mistakes.
  • Attitude is the hardest to change and will require constant reinforcement.

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