Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How Experts Can Train Novices More Effectively

Novices in many fields look to those with experience for mentorship, advice, and training.  It's quite natural for them to do so.  Unfortunately, the experts do not always make great teachers.   They can't empathize with the novices, and they sometimes have a hard time explaining how they learned to do what they do.   Scholars call this phenomenon the "curse of knowledge."  Think about the challenges some superstar athletes face when they try to coach others upon retirement.  Examples of those who struggled in this regard include Magic Johnson, Ted Williams, and Isaiah Thomas. 

Harvard doctoral candidate Ting Zhang has been conducting interesting research on how experts can break the "curse of knowledge."  She has focused on two strategies that could help.   First, experts can document their learning process while they are novices, and then look back on their notes when asked to provide coaching and advice to others.  Second, experts can "rediscover inexperience" by acting like a beginner again. 

In one study she asked undergraduates to record notes about their summer internships, and she collected the diaries.   Months later, they were asked to provide advice to others pursuing internships.  She gave one half of the experts access to their old notes, while the other half did not receive the diaries to review.   The new interns gave higher evaluations to the advice given by those who had reviewed their diaries. 

In a second study, she asked musicians to record themselves playing guitar.   One half of them could play as they wished. The other half were directed to play with their non-dominant hand.   Those in this second group felt more like beginners again, empathized more effectively with novices, and they gave more concrete and effective advice to beginners as well. 

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