Monthly Archives: November 2009

Meaning Part 1: 4MAT and Conscious Competence Model

“Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts. This experiment has been done hundreds of times, always achieving the same result:  Words presented in a logically organized, hierarchical structure are much better remembered than words placed randomly-typically 40% better”1

We begin every 4MAT Train the Trainer program with an expectations exercise, exploring the training design issues our participants want to explore. One of the most common issues is how to seamlessly connect the parts of the design. Creating associations between the pieces of content being shared embeds meaning. When the learner understands the underlying meaning that connects the topics, learning increases significantly.

In Brain Rules, author John Medina references the work of John Bransford, an education researcher who answered the question, “What separates novices from experts?” Bransford identified six characteristics. One of the characteristics is relevant to the conversation around meaning in learning.  “[Experts’] knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead their knowledge is organized around core concepts or “big ideas” that guide their thinking about their domains.”

When working with subject-matter experts, the trainer should be focused on determining these concepts.  This might sound easy.  However, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the possible content topics and miss the bigger idea.

What if we simply asked the experts to identify the concepts? This sounds like a simple solution, but one of the outcomes of growing expertise, is the tendency to forget what it is like to be a novice. The conscious competence model illustrates the movement from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent well:

 4Mat and Conscious Compentence Model

When working with subject matter experts, the trainer must lead the expert to a next level of competence-an awareness of conscious competence.  In the next installment of this series, we will talk more about how awareness of the conscious competence model influences training design.

This is the first of a four-part series on getting to the concept. Stay tuned.

1Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle: Pear Press, 2008.