Experts & Novices

Throughout time, expertise was gained through apprenticeship, it took time and effort to develop.  It was a necessity for future growth and earning.  But, what exactly makes someone as expert?

Experts acquire extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information about their environment.  This powers their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.

Today, expertise is usually recognized as experience, in other words time.  Time to gain the experience that qualifies you as an expert.  We see this in job descriptions all the time.  Higher paying jobs require more years of experience at certain levels.  However, some people gain a lot of experience at their jobs but never acquire the status of expert.  Expertise requires more than just time.

Recently, new studies have been looking at how expertise develops.  The belief is that by studying how expertise occurs we will be able to duplicate it at will.  It seems our society is always in a rush–instant gratification-but is it good to rush expertise?  Is it possible to “teach” how to become an expert?  Is an expert the same as a master?  Are experts people who are so passionate at their jobs that they naturally develop this ability?

These questions lead me to think about student learning.  Do our students know isolated facts, pieces of information?  Or, do they see patterns, have deep understandings?  Are they novices who will develop expertise?  Student can solve sets of practice problems but fail to conditionalize their knowledge because they know which chapter the problems come from and so automatically use this information to decide which concepts and formulas are relevant.

Experts organize around “Big Ideas” rather than facts or formula, yet I see many educational leaders with the book Good to Great.  They discuss it, and talk about the “steps” to go from good to great.  It’s funny, they aren’t looking at the big idea at all or their own context, they are trying to execute small facts and formulas.  The result will disappoint them.

“A mile wide and an inch deep” that’s the state of curriculum in education today.  This approach to teaching everything, except how to learn, encourages shallow knowledge of facts and formulas rather than developing conceptual understandings.  If we want to encourage and support students with the ability to become experts in anything, we need to revisit our scope and sequence in schools.  Some school districts in the nation are “compacting” the curriculum to focus more on concepts. Take Pennsylvania for example, it is estimated that the K-12 curriculum in Pennsylvania as it stood in 2009 would take 22 years to teach/master.  Do we, as educators, do a good job of helping students see the “big picture”, learn how to learn?



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