Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Proficiency and Deliberative Practice

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allExpert under a magnifying glass
I find it intriguing how blogging brings opportunities to think and learn but not always in an expected way. There is a collegiality that impinges on my thinking, how I learn and what I do.

While a lot of it is to do with blogging, it certainly isn’t limited to that practice. I was reminded of this diversity on receipt of a reply to an email, from my blogger colleague and friend, Tony Karrer, who aptly moved from the peripheral to the relevant in saying:
"On a different note - any thoughts on how deliberative practice relates to becoming something less than an expert. It seems like it should be applicable to all levels of achievement, but everything I'm reading is the study of becoming an expert. Is that just aspirational, or is deliberative practice also studied for quick attainment of proficiency?"
I assume that by ‘something less than an expert’, Tony means the level of competency that is needed by someone to perform a particular task
properly – he uses the word ‘proficiency’.

While I tend to agree with Tony that the emphasis in many studies to do with learning / training / attaining proficiency seems to be prescriptive towards becoming an expert, I wonder if it is the true intent of these studies.

I suspect that the widespread and imprecise use of the word ‘expert’ has caused some erosion of its original meaning. Being highly proficient in tasks that are effected in doing a job properly does not mean being an expert. Nor does it necessarily have to lead to attaining that level of expertise. It’s all according to where the benchmarks lie for ‘proficient’ and for ‘expert’.

Expertise is harder to achieve

With the advancement of technology and associated practices, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for expertise to reach expert level. The matter of change, which can arrive every 6 months to a year, or even more frequently in technology, will limit the efficiency of any aspiring expert in reaching true expert level.

Changes in technology bring changes in business procedures. So the ‘expert’ is more likely to become someone who keeps pace with the latest updates rather than someone who, as in the past, truly reaches an expert level with knowledge of, application of and proficiency in the associated skills to do with these tasks. My impression is that there are fewer true experts in the workplace today than there were even 10 years ago.

Collateral damage

Printed manuals, or online help, designed to provide knowledge and give pointers on procedural skills cannot keep pace with these changes, so it becomes even more difficult for the aspiring ‘expert’ to reach a desired level of achievement. What come as a result of this are beliefs associated with the cheapened worth of any textual instruction, any information held in text in fact, be it printed or digitally accessible on a screen – part of the collateral damage that accompanies change.

Confidence and assertiveness, when together, are sometimes mistaken for competence and even higher levels of expertise. Experienced classroom teachers are familiar with the vagaries of confidence and assertiveness of young learners when it comes to acquiring expertise. The same unfortunate combination can often lead to lesser 'experts' among those who should have reached higher levels of achievement.

Expert cover up

But what is even more unfortunate is that confidence and assertiveness are often developed as a cover for lack of expertise. It’s when the so-called expert has more confidence and assertiveness than expertise that incompetence tends to persist, and may even be fostered in the workplace.

However, quick attainment of proficiency is not fictitious. There are a number of strategies that can be used to permit this to happen. They're not new and they’re not rocket science:
  • identify the required base-knowledge/skills, foster strategies for these to be recognised as key, and provide avenues for their appropriate acquisition and practice

  • cull redundant and/or recursive procedures or procedural loops in workplace routines

  • provide incentive for revisiting and refining/updating key knowledge/skills/procedures (used to be called ‘training’) to clarify current understanding

  • foster a culture where its acceptable to ask questions to do with key knowledge/skills/procedures - in other words, it's OK not to be an expert.
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Sue Waters said...

Hi Ken, my apologies as I don't normally copy my comments from other people's blogs but in this case I wanted to put it on both yours and Tony's blog.

Flipping the conversation slightly from how "increasingly more difficult for expertise to reach expert level".

Social media has lead to the situation where individuals are often perceived to be experts or more skilled and/or knowledgeable but not because of their actual skills / knowledge. Solely based on their level of online presences.

Nowadays having an online presence is becoming increasingly more important to ensure others are aware of your abilities. In its absence people are more likely to assume other individuals, from similar fields, have a higher level of expertise if their online presence is stronger and "more Googleable."

PS this is my extra comment. My attitude is today it is no longer about us being experts. It is about knowing how to find the information, being able to analyze it and who can help us connect with what we need.

Andrea said...

In my business (elementary education) I see a lot of "expert cover-up." It's a problem, and I appreciate your lucid suggestions, especially:
-provide incentive for revisiting and refining/updating key knowledge/skills/procedures (used to be called ‘training’) to clarify current understanding
-foster a culture where its acceptable to ask questions to do with key knowledge/skills/procedures - in other words, it's OK not to be an expert.

Paradoxically(?) I feel that any expertise I have attained as a teacher has come from freely admitting that I'm no expert. How is change, growth and learning possible when you already know everything?
I certainly support the quest for high levels of proficiency. However, I would rather be answered (by any professional) with a simple and truthful, "I do not know, but I will try my best to find out" then some fast-talking cover-up.

V Yonkers said...

I think it's important to distinguish between specialization and expertise. I am a expert in educational technology, but I don't specialize in any one (I don't program flash, use twitter, or am proficient, though not expert, in using blackboard). I consider myself an expert because I know how to integrate any technology (even one I have never used before) into my teaching or any one else's teaching, depending on their teaching style.

I think the way you have defined expertise is more specialization. In this day an age, it is difficult to be a specialist because of the changes. Expertise means you can go into any context in your field and be proficient regardless of your experience very quickly. Novices may be able to be proficient, but they have a superficial understanding of the system, whereas an expert understands how and why things happen the way they do, even if they have never been faced with that situation in the past.

Unfortunately, I think many businesses confuse expertise and specialization in their hiring practices. My husband's company currently is having difficulty finding an outside "expert" in cyber security. When told what to do the outside consultant can do the work. However, they are looking for someone to come in, size up the situation and environment, and tell the organization what the organization needs to do. In other words, they can find specialists in cyber security, but not an expert.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Heya Sue!

What's copy-n-paste for if y'can't use it when you want to say the same thing to two people at opposite corners of the world?

I agree with what you say about perception of experts and online presence. My feeling is that the mystique associated with that 'online presence' is a perception that could be deceptive. On another tack, not every workplace has the environment for people to create these online presences. By default, people get dubbed as experts, and not just online experts either.

But what you said in your PS about the people who know how to find the info - THESE are today's experts. They don't acquire that expertise by Googling or reading online manuals. They have to be practitioners who walk the talk, to use a 20th C term.

Haere mai Andrea!

I have always believed that teachers are more likely to gain respect from learners by showing their willingness to learn. This could mean they may have to do a bit of head-scratching and come back to assist the learner to find out how. Often the 'let's find out' approach works a treat.

It's impressive if the instructor does this, especially if they have been truthful and already declared they didn't really know the answer to begin with. I'm with you all the way on this.

Kia ora Virginia!

I know where you're coming from with expertise and specialisation. But doesn't specialisation tend to veer towards being an expert if only in a narrow field? Tony Karrer's Jack-of-all-trades is more the line of action.

I found this out when I spent 3 years doing chemical research for a research degree. The field that I became an expert in was so narrow it was almost useless. What I did pick up on the way, however, was a whole range of transferable skills. That was very useful. I'm still using that range of skills 38 years on - I was quite uneducated when I started.

Catchya later