The purpose of most long-term learning experiences is to move an individual from a state of little proficiency in a skill to one of competence or even expertise. But what makes someone an expert? Cognitive psychology has some answers to this question.
Understanding expert thinking provides valuable insights into how to assist novices in developing similar skills and behaviors. Researchers have investigated the differences between experts and novices in a variety of fields. From this research, we can see that expertise is more than an accumulation of knowledge or experience.
A Network of Knowledge
Cognitive psychologists theorize that experts have a strong network of knowledge. Through study and experience, experts build connections between concepts, principles and practical knowledge. Rather than a random set of unrelated and isolated facts, expert knowledge is an interrelated network of “knowing what” and “knowing how.”
When knowledge structures are interconnected, different retrieval cues will call up the similar information. For example, if you take your car to an expert mechanic, they will have several memory paths for recalling possible reasons your car isn’t running. The sounds that the engine makes is one path, remembering previous customers with similar problems is a second path and recalling an illustration showing a similar problem is a third path.
Theoretically, the expert mechanic has at least three paths for retrieving information about the cause of a problem. In this way, an interconnected network of knowledge provides multiple opportunities for recalling knowledge from long-term memory.
Well-organized and Meaningful Structures
Experts are good at making inferences, drawing conclusions and finding solutions. Their knowledge is organized in a way that enhances meaning. Similar to filing and retrieving documents in an orderly way, an organized framework of knowledge will speed up searching and retrieving the right information for the task at hand.
Effective Problem Solving
“Faced with a problem situation, experts quickly form solutions that are more likely to be effective than solutions formed by novices,” (Ertmer et al. 2008). Over years of experience, experts refine and test their hypotheses and solutions. Their substantial knowledge affects what they notice and how they interpret information. These adaptations lead to better problem solving and performance (.
Experts often have quick ways to resolve and troubleshoot an issue, because expert knowledge is applicable to a broad range of contexts and conditions. When they see a novel problem, they don’t need to waste time taking an irrelevant path. This makes them quick at solving problems. In some fields, solving problems becomes almost automatic. See Expert Thinking and Novice Thinking.
Awareness of Their Own Cognition
Experts often excel at metacognition. They can watch themselves learn and solve problems. As they monitor and evaluate how well they are doing, they adjust their strategies to generate new approaches. For example, a doctor who is an expert diagnostician will ask the patient a set of questions related to their symptoms. If the case becomes complex and the physician feels stumped, the expert will notice that the current strategy is not working. The physician will modify their approach by asking the patient a different set of questions, consulting a peer physician, or seeking additional tests.
In summary, here is the difference between a novice and an expert. An expert knows more and their knowledge is well-organized into a meaningful framework. They have better strategies for retrieving and using knowledge than novices. Experts think holistically and create paradigms for solving problems. They also continually evaluate their own thinking and problem-solving and adjust their strategies to optimize results. Keep this in mind when you teach experts and when you’re trying to improve the competencies of novices. For ideas on how to design for experts, see Novice Versus Expert Design Strategies: The Expert Reversal Effect.
- Ertmer, Peggy A. et al. How instructional design experts use knowledge and experience to solve ill-structured problems. Performance Improvement Quarterly, v21 n1 p17-42 2008. 26 pp.
- Logan, Gordon D. Automatic Control: How Experts Act Without Thinking. Psychological Review, Vol 125(4), Jul, 2018 pp. 453-485. http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/logan/Logan2018.pdf.
- Nelms, A.A. & M. Segura-Totten. Expert–Novice Comparison Reveals Pedagogical Implications for Students’ Analysis of Primary Literature. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2019 Winter; 18(4): ar56. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6829068/
I’d say a lot of experience in combo with constant education and WILL to learn new stuff.
Connie Malamed says
Of course that’s fine, Gail.
Gail Chanpong says
Connie Malamed, Thank you for your blog post about designing courses for professional development among experts. As an instructor new to online course design, I plan to keep the characteristics of the experts in mind when developing online courses.
I would like to ask your premission to paraphrase some of the information in your blog post. Of course, I will be glad to attribute your advice with referenece to your URL and Your eLearning Coach website.
[[ These characteristics of the experts include having knowledge structures that are inter-connected, based on a well-organized and meaningful framework. Experts think holistically, easily identify patterns, and use mental solving problem models. Their own thinking and problem-solving processes are continually updated and strategies adjusted to optimize results. ]]
SOURCE: Connie Malamed. (2018). Coaching Tips for Experts. The eLearning Coach. Available from : https://theelearningcoach.com/learning/the-experts-brain/
Connie Malamed says
In many ways, I think the instructional strategies for helping novices become competent are the basis of instructional design. It’s a pretty limitless topic and more instructional strategies will be coming in future topics. Certainly, using white space and progressive revelation are two ways to facilitate learning.
This is a nice analysis of how expert’s brain work. Thnaks a lot for info. Would be please tell me what a novice should do develop a brain stucture like that of Expert.