Consciousness is an interesting artifact of our cognitive architecture. And no, (despite being a native Californian ;) I’m not talking about social or environmental or higher consciousness. Here I’m talking about our conscious thinking, the insight we have (or not) into our own internal thinking. And it’s interesting and relevant.
First, we really don’t have a full understanding of consciousness. It’s a phenomena ew pretty much all experience, but the actual mechanism about how, or where, it arises in our brain is still a mystery. How do we have this perception of a serial narrative in our head, but our brain is massively parallel? Yet it’s there. At least, to conscious inspection ;).
Actually, much of our processing is subconscious. We compile away our expertise as we develop it. We use conscious dialog (internal or external) to shape our performance, but what we actually do gets stored away without explicit access. In fact, research says that 70% of what experts do (and that’s us, in our areas of expertise) isn’t accessible. Thus, experts literally can’t tell us what they do! (Warning, warning: important implications for working with SMEs!)
In fact, consciousness is typically used to deal with situations that aren’t practiced: conversations on topics, dealing with unique problems, and of course learning new things. Informal learning is pretty much all conscious, while formal learning is about practicing to make the conscious become unconscious!
Which, of course, is why the ‘event’ model of learning doesn’t work. There’s not enough practice, spaced out over time, for that learning to become automated. And we don’t expect our formal learning to get us all the way there, we use coaching and feedback to continue to happen.
As learning experience designers or learning engineers, our job is to make sure we provide the right support for using our conscious thoughts to guide our practice. That includes models to explain and predict outcomes, and cognitive annotated examples to model the appropriate solution. And, of course, practice that gradually develops the expertise in appropriate sized chunks and spacing between. I suppose we should be conscious of consciousness in our design ;). So what am I unconsciously missing?