Where has the Expertise Gone?

The glut of information has made all of us experts in virtually everything.

As Tom Nicols said, “I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically social science and public policy. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people.

I never thought those were particularly controversial statements.”

With the glut of information available at the touch of a button (or the swipe of a finger), everyone has access to the same information. Google, Wikipedia, Blogs and on and on. We live in an age of information abundance. The information that is available is unimaginable and is increasing at an exponential rate. Having information does not make you an expert. Having an opinion does not make you an expert.

Gaining expertise takes time. In The Cambridge handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, Ericsson estimates that it takes about 10,000 hours of studying and doing something to become an expert. It isn’t just the time element that makes you an expert, there are other elements as well.

In addition to the time it takes, Ericsson tells us that another aspect of expertise is the “…seek(ing) out particular kinds of experiences, that is, deliberate practice”. Starkes notes that deliberate practice is one of the primary predictors of the attainment of expertise.

I paraphrase Nicols statement for myself. “I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically The Science of Learning and how that applies to formal learning settings. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people.

I never thought those were particularly controversial statements.”

I know from experience that I am dead wrong when it comes to The Science of Learning. There are many teachers who read what I write and say to themselves, “I need to change what I do and apply The Science of Learning to my teaching.” There are many more who say, “Interesting. I should think about using a tip or two from Jesse to see if it makes a difference.” By far, the greatest number of teachers will say, “I teach all the time. I know as much about teaching as anyone else and nobody is going to tell me that what I am doing is not superb!”

Where has the expertise gone?

Everyone in a democratic society has a right to vote. In today’s world, that means that everyone has a right to an opinion about social issues. Because of the access to information and the Googlization of our society, the right to vote and the social opinions that accompany that right means that everyone has a right to be heard. Not only that, but every opinion carries the same weight – there is no recognition of expertise. People drive cars every day, and that makes them an expert on cars. Watching videos suddenly enables anyone to become an expert at directing films that are uploaded to YouTube. Millennials (or Gen X, Y, or Z or whatever they will be called next year) come into classes already knowing that their opinion on the subject that is being taught is as valid as the teachers, and too many of them will argue that opinion, with their peers looking on and applauding. Everyone has an opinion and every opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.

I find it incredible that within institutions where expertise is gained through rigorous study over long periods of time, where we genuinely regard each other as experts in a particular field, and where expertise is generally respected, applauded, recognized, and rewarded, that my expertise in The Science of Learning is demeaned and dismissed by so many. Just because someone teaches, that does not make them an expert in how people learn. Just because someone teaches, that does not make them an expert in how to apply The Science of Learning to his or her teaching. Dismissing The Science of Learning as irrelevant is saying that you know all that there is to know about the best way to teach in spite of the evidence.

According to Bok, fewer than 5% of professors/lectures etc. engage in even a minimal amount of continued professional development when it comes to teaching. And yet, expertise in how people learn is dismissed when it doesn’t align itself with teachers’ opinions about teaching.

Luckily for some, I have been working at disseminating a lot of information about The Science of Learning over the past few months. In the age of the internet, and through the example given to us by the uneducated, we all know that having access to information makes us experts. Are we any different from anyone else?

For the few who actually recognize that the availability of information is not enough and that something that can be gained through interaction with an expert.

Or, are you among the masses of people in the world who has an opinion that is as valid and carries the same amount of weight as someone who has made a lifetime of studying something?

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