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02. How Experts Differ from Novices

  • Experts have better fluency retreival, conditionalized knowledge, and adaptive expertise.
    • Fluency Retrieval - Easier to retreive information and thus can handle larger topics
    • Conditionalized Knowledge - know what to apply in difference circumstances
    • Adaptive Expertise - Are more artists than virtuosos; can adapt to external demands        
    This chapter summarizes research on how experts differ from novices in the way they organize, represent, and interpret information.  By understanding experts, insight into the nature of thinking, problem solving, and processes of learning can be made.
        Experts organize or "chunk" knowledge into more meaningful patterns than novices, and experts see big ideas rather than small, isolated facts.  Experts classify information based on big ideas, while novices use more surface elements.  A study of physics problems that had similar surface elements but different ideas behind them demonstrated this clearly.  The implications for teaching are that rather than emphasizing facts, teachers should give students large ideas that can help students organize the information.  
        Experts have "conditionalized" knowledge, meaning they know what to apply under what conditions.  The implications for curriculum and assessment are that problems should focus on where and when to use knowledge.  For example, instead of asking students which is Einstein's theory (E=mc or E=mc2), questions can give problems asking students if this theory is applicable and why.  
        Experts also have greater fluency in retrieval than novices.  Because this is so, they can do more tasks or focus on larger questions as they solve problems.  A clear example of this is the expert driver that can talk while he drives, versus the beginner that needs to focus on the road.  
        Expert teachers have both content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.  It is not sufficient just to be an expert in one of these domains to be a good teacher.  
        Experts have adaptive expertise, meaning they are virtuosos instead of just artisans.  The key difference is that an artisan takes problems and makes the solutions more efficient.  Virtuosos, in contrast, view expertise not just as the attainment of knowledge but of having metacognitive skills to continually develop their expertise.  
        In conclusion, experts start at a higher place of understanding than novices.  Their information is more organized, more fluently accessed, and conditionalized.  Experts are also more metacognitive, being able to step away from a problem and consider mental models for solving it.  Curriculum must focus on depth and organization of content knowledge, as well as under what conditions something should be learned.  However, these conclusions should be applied cautiously as without other educational principles implemented in parallel, can lead to poor instruction.  
Box 2.1 - What Experts See
When chess board was organized into a meaningful pattern (i.e. like from a real game), chess players recalled positions better than non-chess players.  But when the board was organized randomely, there was no difference in recall, suggesting that experts are chunking and don't have better general memory faculties, but rather develop domain-specific memory skills through chunking.
Box 2.2 - What Expert and Novice Teachers Notice
Expert teachers have much more to say and interpret situations differently compared with novice teachers.  The study showed a videotape of a classroom and asked expert and novice teachers to compare what they saw.
Figure 2.4 -
Novices and experts were asked to create diagrams about physics problems.  The novices tried to group their problems based on the similarity of the situation, whereas the experts grouped their problems based on the similarity of the underlying principal. 
Box 2.3 - Understanding Problem Solving
Experts and novices, as well as children versus adults, were given word problems.  Novices and children then to try and plug in numbers to get started, whereas experts and adults first try to understand the problem.
Box 2.4 - Teaching Hamlet
An expert teacher taught Hamlet first by introducing principles of writing, and only then introducing the play itself.  A novice teacher broke it down into 50 minute chunks, and consequently reported that the kids had trouble connecting.


What do you think you know about this topic?

        Understanding how experts think is indeed an important element of learning sciences.  Though many of these points are obvious, having them studied clarifies the language and does confirm some questionable hypothesis, such as whether master chess players would have better memory of random chess boards than novices.  (Indeed, one would expect that in the context of a game they would have better memory as they can see patterns).  The educational implications are very important, showing that while a deep knowledge base is important, teaching depth over breadth has advantages by helping students organize the knowledge into meaningful chunks, and likewise it teaches big ideas that students can then transfer to other scenarios. 

What questions or puzzles do you have?

        One question I have is about the large amounts of knowledge that experts must develop.  If the authors are implying that experts need this knowledge in order to chunk and organize it well, doesn't this imply that education should first focus on basic facts, and only later get to the higher-ordered tasks?  

How can you explore this topic?

        One way would be to find articles on basic knowledge acquisition that ask the question, what helps students beginning a topic best acquire basic knowledge?