Understanding Expertise

Have you watched an expert at work? You can sense  a level of comfort and fluency. I often watch expert programmers code, debug, fix problems in software.  I get the same sense watching painting shows on TV. A stroke here, a stroke there and suddenly you have a beautiful creation taking shape, right in front of you.

I always wondered what makes experts experts. I thought it was intelligence or just a lot of experience. It seems to be a lot more than that. I never dug deeper into the subject and suddenly I stumbled into this, while exploring a completely unrelated subject.

People who have developed expertise in particular areas are, by definition, able to think effectively about problems in those areas. Understanding expertise is important because it provides insights into the nature of thinking and problem solving. Research shows that it is not simply general abilities, such as memory or intelligence, nor the use of general strategies that differentiate experts from novices. Instead, experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment. This, in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.

… the study of expertise shows what the results of successful learning look like…

We consider several key principles of experts’ knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction:

    1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
    2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.

    3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.

    4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.

    5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.

    6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

Now we know. Or at least, have some theories to explore. The fragments above, were taken from the second chapter – How Experts Differ from Novices of a really fascinating book – How People Learn.