In a previous article, I noted that experts have different internal knowledge structures than novices. Expert knowledge seems to be efficiently organized and easy to search through, like an orderly file cabinet. Expert knowledge is deeply intertwined, creating many paths for recalling information.
When you’re designing for experts in a field, try to match the design and writing with their unique characteristics, which occur both in how they structure knowledge as well as the circumstances of their professional life. Here are some tips you can use when designing courses for experts.
Quickly Mention Prerequisite Content. Experts know a lot, but they can’t be expected to remember everything. So a slight nod to a prerequisite topic will ensure they recall the information. Quickly touch on prerequisites in a way they barely notice. Or have prerequisite content available as an extra resource.
Keep it Organized. Experts have a well-organized framework within which they fit their knowledge. This helps them retrieve information quickly. Your design and writing should also be well-organized and, if possible, structured according to the way an expert would think. Most fields have a more or less typical way of systematizing information and you should probably stick to this approach, unless you have a great reason not to do so. If your content is logically and conventionally organized, it will help experts quickly fit new information into their existing structures.
Get Them In and Out. If you’re writing for experts, assume they are busy. Everyone wants an expert, needs an expert and has questions for the expert. They are usually in great demand and may only be taking your online course because it is an employee requirement. Get them in and out of the training as quickly as possible. When writing for experts, don’t belabor your points.
Don’t Play Simple Games. In my experience, most experts do not feel like playing simplistic games and getting involved in cute interactive activities. Unless you’re creating a very involved simulation or a complex exercise, don’t make experts go through a lot of interactive activities to learn. If you want interaction, then let them solve problems. A problem based on a challenging real-world scenario or competitive activity might work. Consider making it optional.
Assume They’ll Get It. Experts don’t mind stretching a bit and don’t need hand holding. Because their knowledge structures are well-connected, it’s not difficult for them to add new information to their broad and deep network of knowledge. You can go for the tough stuff and assume they’ll understand it. If they don’t, they’ll use their own resourcefulness to figure it out. You can help this along by providing supplemental information in the form of a glossary, hypertext explanations, links to authority websites and downloads of background resources, such as research studies.
Avoid Condescension. Experts are used to being at the top and they like it there. Avoid writing in a way that could be interpreted as condescending. Condescension is a de-motivator for everyone. Can you imagine how it makes the expert feel?
Do you have any other tips for designing and writing for experts? Please share in the Comments box below.