Notes on the Psychology of Expertise
(Armstrong 2003)

During adulthood, people become experts at doing specific tasks that are important to them. These tasks may be related to work, leisure time interests, or human relationships. The study of expertise examines how and why adults acquire the ability to do less and less, better and better - a process called encapsulation. Encapsulation is a process whereby the adult learner's cognitive energies and skills become focused on specific areas. This leads to substantial variation (variability) in adult abilities.

An expert is not necessarily more gifted than other individuals. Psychologists use the term expert to refer to an individual who is significantly more experienced than others in performing a particular task. However, the difference between experts and novices cannot be reduced solely to experience (time invested in learning how to perform tasks). There are at least five qualitative differences between experts and novice.

1. Novices rely on formal rules and procedures to guide them. Experts rely to a greater degree on their accumulated experience.


2. Novices are highly conscious of the task performance process. This is a distraction and creates additional "load" on cognitive processing. As expertise grows, performance of the task becomes automatic. This cognitive phenomenon is called "automaticity."


3. As expertise is acquired, the learner's cognitive processing system becomes more efficient at processing new information. As a result, experts can see the whole picture. They are also more aware of the specific circumstances in which they are working. They have good self-monitoring skills. Experts can make even very complex, difficult tasks look easy.


4. The expert has a larger number of strategies, and more effective strategies, for performing the task. This may be the most critical difference between the expert and the novice. Experts know how to get out of trouble because they have multiple strategies for dealing with the unexpected.


5. Experts are more flexible than novices. They rely on intuition in ways that novices find difficult to comprehend.

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Selected Bibliography

Benner, P. (1984). From to novice to expert: excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Addison-Wesley.

Berliner, D. C. (1986). In pursuit of the expert pedagogue. Educational Researcher, 15 (7), 5-13.

Chi, M., Glaser, R., & Farr, M.J. (1988). The nature of expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Dreyfus, H. and Dreyfus, S. (1986). Mind over machine: The power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer. New York: Free Press.

Ericsson, K. A. (1996). The road to excellence. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ericsson, K. A. & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725-747.

Elstein, A., Shulman, L., and Sprafka, S. (1978). Medical problem-solving: An analysis of clinical expertise. Cambridge, MQA: Harvard University.

Leinhardt, G. & Greeno, J.G. (1986). The cognitive skill of teaching. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 647-650.

Sabers, D. S., Cushing, K.S., & Berliner, D.C. (1991). Differences among teachers in a task characterized by simultaneity, multidimensionality, and immediacy. American Educational Research Journal, 28, 63-88.

Salthouse, T. (1985). A theory of cognitive aging. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Salthouse, T. (1986). Effects of age and skill in typing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 113, 345-371.

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 19 (2), 4-14.

Sternberg, R. (1998). Abilities are forms of developing expertise. Educational Researcher, 27 (3), 11-20.

Sternberg, R. & Horvath, J.A. (1995). A prototype view of expert teaching. Educational Researcher, 24 (6), 9 - 17.

Swanson, H.L., O’Connor, J.E., & Cooney, J.B. (1990). An information processing analysis of expert and novices teachers’ problem solving. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 533-556.


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created 4/20/03 by jka