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How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School
ers have acquired pedagogical content knowledge and not just content knowledge. (This concept is explored more fully in Chapter 7.)
The concept of adaptive expertise raises the question of whether some ways of organizing knowledge lead to greater flexibility in problem solving than others (Hatano and Inagaki, 1986; Spiro et al., 1991). Differences between the “merely skilled” (artisans) and the “highly competent” (virtuosos) can be seen in fields as disparate as sushi making and information design. Virtuosos not only apply expertise to a given problem, they also consider whether the problem as presented is the best way to begin.
The ability to monitor one’s approach to problem solving—to be metacognitive—is an important aspect of the expert’s competence. Experts step back from their first, oversimplistic interpretation of a problem or situation and question their own knowledge that is relevant. People’s mental models of what it means to be an expert can affect the degree to which they learn throughout their lifetimes. A model that assumes that experts know all the answers is very different from a model of the accomplished novice, who is proud of his or her achievements and yet also realizes that there is much more to learn.
We close this chapter with two important cautionary notes. First, the six principles of expertise need to be considered simultaneously, as parts of an overall system. We divided our discussion into six points in order to facilitate explanation, but each point interacts with the others; this interrelationship has important educational implications. For example, the idea of promoting fluent access to knowledge (principle 4) must be approached with an eye toward helping students develop an understanding of the subject matter (principle 2), learn when, where and why to use information (principle 3), and learn to recognize meaningful patterns of information (principle 1). Furthermore, all these need to be approached from the perspective of helping students develop adaptive expertise (principle 6), which includes helping them become metacognitive about their learning so that they can assess their own progress and continually identify and pursue new learning goals. An example in mathematics is getting students to recognize when a proof is needed. Metacognition can help students develop personally relevant pedagogical content knowledge, analogous to the pedagogical content knowledge available to effective teachers (principle 5). In short, students need to develop the ability to teach themselves.
The second cautionary note is that although the study of experts provides important information about learning and instruction, it can be misleading if applied inappropriately. For example, it would be a mistake simply to expose novices to expert models and assume that the novices will learn effectively; what they will learn depends on how much they know already. Discussions in the next chapters (3 and 4) show that effective instruction begins with the knowledge and skills that learners bring to the learning task.