Sunday, July 16, 2006

Can educators create experts?

There's an interesting article in the August 2006 issue of Scientific American, The Expert Mind.

Motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports - all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing - professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families...

Teachers in sports, music and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity...

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child into an expert - in chess, music, and a host of other subjects - sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills [or any other skills for that matter]?
This insight seems to show up in other unrelated texts. In Good to Great, Jim Collins say great companies have an intense focus he calls the Hedgehog Effect. Two of three questions he proposes pondering to identify this intense focus clearly relate best-in-the-world expertise with passionate dedication.

* What you can be the best in the world at?
* What you are deeply passionate about?
* What best drives your economic or resource engine?

The insight about experts also matches up with conclusions in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

For those of you like me who aren't protégés, it's comforting that there's hope for us if we're just willing to dedicate ourselves to being exceptional. We're not really going to dedicate ourselves to that kind of intense focus, but at least we can day dream about it.

3 comments:

Lobo said...

I agree that motivation is more important than innate talent to develop skill or expertise. Talent does matter but you still need to develop it. Someone with less talent can perform better than someone with more talent if the lesser talent works harder, smarter and longer.

I've read a book called "The World is Flat", Thomas Friedman. He comments that more people of the world have equal access to information that only a couple of decades ago only large companies, governments or experts had access to. Now the average person can have at his or her finger tips the information they need to compete.

I'ver read Good to Great and Blink and the issue to me is to get the average person better methods to perform better. Today teachers do not have enough time to inspire as much as they used to - rules of conducting classes have changed, good students go to school with uninterested students - those who need a lot of help to understand ideas are in the same class with those who just need a little extra to understand and perform well.

We need more people with expertise which is not so hard to develop as we may think. Expertise is often getting the "extra" beyond the ordinary to make it extraordinary. Most of us do not have the time or focus to develop the extra or we don't think of doing it so it does not get done.

I met a psychologist who used to have a private practice until about 10 years ago. She changed to start training professionals and business people on mainly one topic - How to Delegate authority and jobs. She finally wrote a book about it, not very long but full of good ideas and a good system. I was amazed that you could make a business from one single idea like that but she told me she found something most people in business do not know much about and need a system and coaching since it will help their efficiency and save them time. She travels the country giving workshops.

Students need to learn how to approach studying more on their own these days since they may not be able to get the expert help of teachers or school tutors and their parents may not be able to afford private tutors. I've written a series of books for students from Jr. High thru the University level, a set of books for each grade level for students and a set of books for parents to help their teens. Inspiration is one thing but then we need to know good ways to develop our skills to help us become expert - www.slssystem.com. We must develop the focus skills to be an expert and notice what matters what the world may want or be ready for in our perception (Good to Great & Blink). Good students who get good grades know this. The rest of us must learn on our own. Teachers can only do so much these days. Now most of this in our hands and our parents hands. When you have something you are expert at, if the world needs it, everyone looks differently at us and this affects what we can do in the world in many ways.

Steve Stevenson said...

There is a great deal of literature on expertise and development of expertise. As stated in the note, experts are made, not born. What constitutes expertise? Some of it is knowledge but most seems to be experience. The numbers I've seen in he literature is that it takes about 10,000 hours of work to become an expert --- work it out: that's 4-5 years.

My working definition of "expert" in my work is that an expert is able to decide what the real problem(s) are in the stated problem: novices can't do that.

My take would be that educators can't create anything: All I can do is give you the opportunity to get the experiences you need so that you can build expertise.

Steve Stevenson said...

There is a great deal of literature on expertise and development of expertise. As stated in the note, experts are made, not born. What constitutes expertise? Some of it is knowledge but most seems to be experience. The numbers I've seen in he literature is that it takes about 10,000 hours of work to become an expert --- work it out: that's 4-5 years.

My working definition of "expert" in my work is that an expert is able to decide what the real problem(s) are in the stated problem: novices can't do that.

My take would be that educators can't create anything: All I can do is give you the opportunity to get the experiences you need so that you can build expertise.