The REAL 4 Stages of Learning

The REAL Four Stages of Learning

Ok, I just did an internet search for the 4 Stages of Learning, and every website has this hard-to-understand gobbledygook about the psychological 4 stages of learning.  So let ol’ Ed here lay out a detailed, but easy-to-understand breakdown of the real 4 stages of learning!

You should know these because if you understand it, it’ll cut down on frustration, and it actually becomes funny to watch yourself as you go through these same 4 stages over and over again.  And I’ll even tell you how to get out of one stage, and into the next!


1. The Initial Use Stage

This is when you first see a step.  You understand the words that are being said to you, but you don’t have a clear picture in your mind of what you should be doing.  You don’t have a full body comprehension of what’s going on.  Because of that, the following things will happen to you:

  • You’ll add steps or movements that you shouldn’t be doing and not realize it.  Most commonly changing weight by accident, adding taps, or making movements too big.
  • Sometimes you leave out steps or movements that you should be doing.  You might skip an entire triple step and not even know it!
  • Sometimes you’ll do a move the right way, and it’ll feel wrong.  Your instructor will tell you what a good job you did and you won’t believe him!
  • Other time you’ll do a move the wrong way, and it’ll feel great!  You’ll swear you’re doing it right!
  • You can easily tell if you’re in the initial use stage when you mess up a step, but don’t know what went wrong.  You’re trying to back track and figure it out.  That’s the initial use stage!

To get out of this stage, practice the move before you forget it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s rough in the beginning, just try to remember it!  That’s why in our courses and on the lessons we repeat things so much.  Because we understand how the mind works, and we want you to remember what you’re being taught!


2. The Awkward Use Stage

In the Awkward Use Stage, you know what you should be doing, but you’re fighting your body to make it happen.  It’s like you’re building the connection from your brain to your feet.  In this stage, when you make a mistake, you’ll know what you did wrong.  Here’s the problem.  You’ll try to fix it and keep making the same mistake over and over again.  In order to get out of the Awkward Use Stage, do the move S-L-O-W-L-Y.  This way the old habit is replaced by the new way of doing things.

Please remember the above paragraph when you get frustrated.


3. The Conscious Use Stage

Finally!  You’re doing the move correctly, and it looks good, too!  BUT, you still have to think about it.

Imagine you’re out on the floor.  You dancing pretty well.  Then your partner looks at you and asks, “So what are you doing this weekend?”

As your mind thinks about what to say, your feet start to stumble, and you can’t remember your moves.  That’s the Conscious Use Stage.  It requires your concentration.

Now another important aspect of The Conscious Use Stage is this:  You can get to the conscious use stage as early as a single lesson.  But when you walk out the door, you’ll start to forget what you learned.  A popular saying in dancing is, “You’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse.  You never stand still.”  Well, in a way that’s true.  And it can be frustrating when you learn a move, come back, and then can’t remember it.  “I had it,” you think, “but now I just can’t remember.”  Luckily once you get to the fourth Stage of Learning, that’s no longer a problem.


4. The Natural Use Stage

Yay!  Now you can do the move, it looks good, AND it’s COMPLETELY AUTOMATIC!  We instructors will sometimes call this “muscle memory.”  It’s as if your muscles are moving of their own accord.  Now you can talk and dance at the same time, and best of all, IT’S PERMANENT!!  You’ll remember it forever (with light reinforcement, like once every 7 years!)  Basically it’s like riding a bike, if you leave it alone for a while, you might be a little rusty, but the skill will still be there!



Now there is a bit more complexity to the 4 Stages of Learning, but this is a good breakdown, that you should find tremendously helpful.  It’s important to be easy on yourself when you’re learning to dance, and give yourself the time you need to go through these stages.  It’s also important to recognize which stage you’re in!  Having a thorough understanding of these stages is one of the reasons we’re such good instructors here at The Dance Shack, because we’re trained to teach you the right way.  If you have an instructor that teaches too fast, point ’em to this blog, I’m happy to educate them!

One last thing:  Realize you go through these stages for every step and technique that you learn.  As you get better you’ll go through them faster, but you still gotta go through ’em!

HEY!! — I’ll see you at The Dance Shack!


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