How to build expertise

TL;DR — Expertise is relatively straight forward to develop (more detail below on the necessary conditions). The bigger question is who should develop what expertise, so as to ensure its longevity.

— More Detail on the above —

Application of expertise is the most reliable means by which any individual contributes substantively to the economy of exchanges by which we all meet our needs. Luck (“right place, right time”) is a significant part of the system — but by definition, it is the exception, not the rule.

The cultivation of expertise has been studied for millennia, and is actually pretty well understood. Building expertise is really not that complicated or difficult to do, even at a mass scale, given certain conditions are true. Notice the caveat.

Conditions needed to cultivate expertise (relatively easily):
1. Establish early a child’s capacity to apply extended, disciplined effort in a self-improvement task. If this is not developed during a child’s relatively slow-paced early years, it becomes progressively more difficult to build due to the time-pressure of mounting responsibilities. Then extended, disciplined effort (particularly if joined with critical feedback on the subpar elements of the resultant work) may lead to the learner’s retreat “back to safety”. It is possible to get past the learner’s retreat, but only by applying far more substantial effort — and even then, probability of success is much lower due to the greater proportion of extraneous factors associated with life at later stages…
2. Learner is assisted early in their practice of skills to avoid forming self-limiting habit patterns. Aside: as a wrestling coach, I saw this rule repeatedly ignored via sloppy drills with little to no feedback to the learner. As the saying goes, “practice makes permanent”.
3. Learner has access to the conceptual schema of the domain (i.e. What are the essential understandings, how are they related, and how are they applied?) — better yet, they are equipped with the skill of assembling a conceptual schema from the available knowledge sources.
4. Learner is equipped with a means of self-assessment — i.e. a way of comparing their own performance to a model or exemplar. Preferably, performance feedback and assessment is immediate.
5. Learner has a context for useful application of their skill, at their current developmental stage of expertise, progressively increasing, if they are improving (as indicated by self-assessment).
6. Learner has an eclectic array of exemplars which serve as rich models for comparison against their own performance, and which normalize the seeking of higher levels of accomplishment.

All that said, I actually consider the far bigger problem to be which expertise to build. It takes a lot of time to build robust expertise — years — and the return on the learning investment follows that same track. Thus, both the individual and society benefits most from the continuous cultivation of expertise over time. From youth, then, humans should be equipped with the tools by which they might insightfully assess various expertise pathways, as they suit individual predilections, environmental benefactors/malefactors, etc.

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