Experts think differently

Research on expertise has identified the following differences between expert performers and beginners

  • Experts have larger and more integrative knowledge units, and their represen­tations of information are more functional and abstract than those of novices, whose knowledge base is more fragmentary. For example, a beginning piano player reads sheet music note by note, whereas a concert pianist is able to see the whole row or even several rows of music notation at the same time.
  • When solving problems, experts may spend more time on the initial prob­lem evaluation and planning than novices. This enables them to form a holistic and in-depth understanding of the task and usually to reach a solution more swiftly than beginners.
  • Basic functions related to tasks or the job are automated in experts, whereas beginners need to pay attention to these functions. For instance, in a driving Basic functions related to tasks or the job are automated in experts, whereas beginners need to pay attention to these functions. For instance, in a driving school, a young driver focuses his or her attention on controlling devices and pedals, while an experienced driver performs basic strokes automatically. For this reason, an expert driver can observe and anticipate traffic situations better than a beginning driver.
  • Experts outperform novices in their metacognitive and reflective thinking. In other words, they make sharp observations of their own ways of think­ing, acting, and working, especially in non-routine situations when auto­ mated activities are challenged. Beginners’ knowledge is mainly explicit and they are dependent on learned rules. In addition to explicit knowledge, experts have tacit or implicit knowledge that accumulates with experience. This kind of knowledge makes it possible to make fast decisions on the basis of what is often called intuition.
  • In situations where something has gone wrong or when experts face totally new problems but are not required to make fast decisions, they critically reflect on their actions. Unlike beginners, experienced professionals focus their thinking not only on details but rather on the totality consisting of the details.
  • Experts’ thinking is more holistic than the thinking of novices. It seems that the quality of thinking is associated with the quality and amount of knowledge. With a fragmentary knowledge base, a novice in any field may remain on lower levels of thinking: things are seen as black and white, without any nuances. In contrast, more experienced colleagues with a more organized and holistic know­ledge base can access more material for their thinking, and, thus, may begin to explore different perspectives on matters and develop more relativistic views concerning certain problems. At the highest levels of thinking, an individual is able to reconcile different perspectives, either by forming a synthesis or by inte­grating different approaches or views.
LevelPerformance
BeginnerFollows simple directions
NovicePerforms using memory of facts and simple rules
CompetentMakes simple judgmentsfor typical tasksMay need help withcomplex or unusual tasksMay lack speed andflexibility
ProficientPerformance guided by deeper experience Able to figure out the most critical aspects of a situation Sees nuances missed by less-skilled performers Flexible performance
ExpertPerformance guided by extensive practice and easily retrievable knowledge and skillsNotices nuances, connections, and patterns Intuitive understanding based on extensive practice Able to solve difficult problems, learn quickly, and find needed resources
Levels of Performance

Sources

  • Clark, R. 2003. Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement, 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: International Society for Performance Improvement.
  • Ericsson, K.A. 2016. Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Kallio, E, ed. Development of Adult Thinking : Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cognitive Development and Adult Learning. Taylor & Francis Group, 2020.

.

Know the Knows

When developing training programs and cultural initiative sit is useful to break down what we really want people to know. I find it useful to think in terms of the following:

  • know-how: The technical skills to do the work
  • know-what: The ability to perform functional problem-solving, to adapt the process and innovate
  • know-who: networking and interpersonal skills, with social/emotional intelligence, for empathy or social network capacities
  • know-where: institutional and system knowledge of how the work fits into a larger ecosystem
  • know-who/how: strategic and leadership skills, for political ‘ nous’ in setting agendas, managing institutions, mobilizing resources;
  • know-why: creation of meaning, significance, identity, morality, with practical intuition for creative arts, sports, everyday social exchange.

To build all six elements requires a learning culture and a recognition that knowledge and awareness do not start and end at initial training on a process. We need to build the mechanisms to:

  • Communicate in a way to continually facilitate the assimilation of knowledge
  • Incorporate ongoing uses of tools such as coaching and mentoring in our processes and systems
  • Motivate the ongoing enhancement of learning
  • Nurture the development and retention of knowledge

We are striving at building competence, to be able to grow and apply the knowledge and abilities of our workers to solve problems and innovate.

Training, Development, Knowledge Management, Problem-Solving – these are a continuum but too often we balkanize responsibility of these in our organizations when what we need is an ecosystem approach.