Weekly Teaching Note
Mar 08 2011
How Experts Differ from Novices

Purpose: To help faculty members appreciate the gulf between their expert knowledge and their students’ novice understandings so they can create positive teaching and learning situations. 
Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) have identified some important characteristics of experts that have implications for teaching and learning:
“1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is ‘conditionalized’ on a set of circumstances.
4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations,” p. 31.
The teaching implications are numerous. For example, when students must acquire content knowledge in order to later become experts themselves, repetition must be built into the learning process, preferably through as many modalities (text, diagrams, animations, films, problem-solving, testing, etc.) as possible.  Group work can be helpful because often students who are more knowledgeable than others can “translate” difficult material in ways that make more sense to other students than the professor’s expert explanations.  
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio

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