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Novice/Expert Studies

One of the richest and most enduring contributions of cognitive science to education is its collection of novice/expert studies. Cognitive scientists have spent decades researching to understand the nature of expertise, and the processes by which novices at a domain become experts. These studies have run the gamut of domains: from well-defined bodies of knowledge like chess, mathematics, physics, law, and circuit analysis, to more ill-defined domains like designing, teaching, and negotiating.

Experts organize knowledge of their fields differently than novices -- this is clear to all novice/expert studies. Some of the hallmarks of expert knowledge organization and performance include:

  • Experts know lots of facts that are organized for efficient use.
  • Experts recognize patterns in situations, which requires less time and thinking resources.
  • Experts have extensive connections between areas of knowledge -- facts are not isolated or inert.
  • Experts do things so automatically, they believe what they know and do is easy.
  • Experts notice underlying structures of situations more, while novices tend to notice surface features.
  • Experts' knowledge is more flexible and adaptable (called understanding) than novices' knowledge

For a great summary of differences between experts and novices, see Chapter 2 "How Experts Differ From Novices" in How People Learn.
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