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.
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


  • 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.

Level of Training

I want to talk about levels of training. I am not going to go into an Instructional Design model/framework, but more stay focused on the purpose of training in the quality system. I am also going to try to discuss training in terms that will make sense to folks who mostly dwell in a verification/validation mindset. So, all my professional learning developer friends please be gentle.

Categories of Training

There are three levels of training (lots of subdivides) that can be viewed as a risk based approach

Awareness Training

This can be barely considered training. Awareness training conveys the subject matter to an audience with the goal of making the audience aware of the content of the communication. It is either informational or actionable. At best, just a ”tell” activity.

Read-and-understand fits in this bucket.

Facilitated Training

Facilitated training strives to improve the workplace proficiency and is hopefully based on some real adult learning principles. There are a lot of delivery modalities that are usually broken into two big buckets of eLearning and classroom delivery. It always has an assessment component to ensure the training had the desired impact. Usually a “tell, show” model with limited “do”.

Employee Qualification

On the job, hands on training that confirms the individual can do the work by independently performing the tasks while being monitored and assessed by the trainer. Usually follows a “tell, show, do, follow-up” model.

The Level of Training is Risk Based

The level of training should be driven by the criticality of the process/procedure/task. I recommend several questions driving this:

  • The complexity knowledge or skills needed to execute the changed process?
  • How complicated/complex is the process/procedure/task?
  • Criticality of Process and risk of performance error? What is the difficulty in detecting errors?
  • What is the identified audience (e.g., location, size, department, single site vs. multiple sites)?
  • Is the goal to change workers conditioned behavior?

The Personnel Qualification Model

Qualification means fitness for some purpose, shown by meeting necessary conditions or qualifying criteria. This applies as much to our people as it does to our equipment, and we can break this own with the three phases of IQ/OQ/PQ:

  • Personnel IQ is provides objective evidence that the trainee has the requisite education and experience for the process/procedure/task.
  • Personnel OQ is proves that the trainee can function in the training situation (event) in an appropriate fashion and performance is within the control limits set by the process/procedure/task. It proves that the trainee can perform the task correctly and independently.
  • Personnel PQ demonstrates the acceptable performance during representative operational conditions. The trainee’s performance consistently produces results that meet the standards set by the process/procedure/task.

Once the process of employee qualification I successfully completed, the employee is qualified and stays so unless and until they become disqualified or the process/procedure/task changes significantly enough to require requalification.

Disqualification and requalification

There should be a process for disqualification, whether from extended absences, job changes or a detrimental trend in performance such as serious or repeated deviations.

Training Plan

As discussed in the post “CVs and JDs and Training Plans” the training plan takes the job description and then says what a given individual needs for training requirements. It does this by looking at the role on a job description and cross-referencing it with the training requirements for the role established by the process owner.

The functional manager is responsible for determining for any given job which roles within a process an individual has.

The process owner, for each process, then sets the training requirements for each role.

Take, for example, a job description that has these three job responsibilities

  • Lead inspection readiness activities and provide support during regulatory site inspections
  • Participate in the vendor management process including the creation and review of Quality Agreements with suppliers
  • Write, review and manage approval of deviations, change controls and CAPA’s

Those three bullets contain a ton of job requirements that translate to roles in processes.

Inspection ReadinessLead
Regulatory Site InspectionsSupport
Vendor Managementparticipant
Quality AgreementsAuthor
Change ControlAuthor
Roles and Processes from an Example Job Description

The functional manager when writing the job description should understand the exact roles in the processes. A good practice is to have a catalog as part of the process framework. For example, participant may not be the right role name and a more specific role should be used.

The process owner for each of those processes has (usually with help from the training unit) determined the right training for each role. These are usually made up of curricula with individual items.

It’s useful to think of these curricula as building blocks. For example, quality agreements, deviation/CAPA, and change control all have a technical writing curricula. The training unit can have a curricula for technical writing and add that to specific roles as appropriate.

The training plan is a key record, on which everything else hinges.

In an ideal world this should be automated. But in my experience it is manual as the job description is not functionality in the Learning Management System and it involves a degree of translation to build the training plan. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone who reads my blog that works for a company doing an LMS to wow me.

Changes to the job description drive changes to the training plan. As an individuals work changes, so to does the processes and roles they interact with. This is the responsibility of the individual and the functional manager is accountable.

Changes to the processes drive changes to the training plan. The process owner is accountable here.

Records in the Training System

Records serve the purpose of controlling and directing the organization, helping to orient personnel to a common goal or purpose. For the purpose of training these records includes a training plan (and its subparts like curricula) and evidence of training performance (e.g.  attendance) and assessment

There are two main audiences for record-keeping: operational staff and various auditors/inspectors. The operational perspective is ideally proactive, while the auditor’s perspective is typically retroactive.

For the training program this breaks down as:

  • Operational staff are interested in the trainee’s currency in their individual training plans for purposes of work assignments. Supervisors need to be sure people are doing the tasks they are trained on. Management is also ensuring they have enough capacity of trained individuals to ensure upcoming activities can be supported.
  • Auditors (internal and external) are interested  in whether the individual who completed a task (e.g. approved a document) was trained to the appropriate process/procedure before doing the task. In this case the training records provide evidence of the organization’s past fulfillment of its regulatory obligations. Auditors will also look at the general health of the training system.

Training records (like all records) must demonstrate that training is implemented, responsible, consistent:

  • Implemented means that training events can be duly recorded in the system.
  • A responsible system’s controlled documents (i.e. procedure for training record-keeping) are written and followed, plus the procedure clearly identifies the responsible party for each task. For example, training is completed within the specified period.
  • Consistent systems ensure identical activities generate identical outcomes. Therefore, we validate Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Documentation of individual training is a captured record (training is captured as it happens), a maintained record (training can be verified after it happened) and a usable record (decisions can be made).

Captured records means the record has the following:

Record Management TermALCOA PrincipleMeans
AuthorizedAttributableCreated by an authorized person, for example a qualified trainer.  
ComprehensiveContemporaneousA record is created for every training event.
IdentifiableAttributableThe created record can be linked to the particular training event  
CompleteAccurateIncludes all information on the training event (who participated, what was covered, who trained and when)

Maintained records means the record has the following:

Record Management TermALCOA PrincipleMeans
InviolateLegibleAny alteration or modification is traceable
AuditableOriginalEvery use of the record leaves an audit trail
Appropriately retainedOriginalTraining records must be subject to a retention schedule and then disposed according to procedure

Usable means the training records can be used by authorized parties to make decisions:

Record Management TermALCOA PrincipleMeans
RetrievableOriginalTraining records are I a form that can be searched and retrieved within a reasonable period of time and expenditure of resources
Accessible to Authorized PartiesLegibleAvailable to those who are authorized to access them

Training Unit as Audience for Records

The training unit is a special case as an audience of documentation that has both operational and audit similarities. Some uses include:

  • Level of effort being applied to training oversight
  • Test and verify accuracy of statements about the benefits and impact of training