The Expertise Reversal Effect

I was recently introduced to an article about how people learn, which caused me to reflect on how I deliver training to researchers. I would recommend reading it, as it is potentially relevant to anyone delivering teaching or training.

It came as a result of seeing Ned Potter tweet about a Guardian article by a psychologist, which claims that learning styles (among other things) are a myth that educators need to be disabused of. I confess that I (like the majority of UK teachers apparently) was not aware that learning styles were disputed or that research had been undertaken which undermined the concept.

My next step was to ask how people actually learn and Ned brought The Expertise Reversal Effect by Kayluga et al. (2003) to my attention.

It states that learning needs to be tailored to learners’ level of expertise because techniques that work well for teaching novices often do not work well for teaching experts. This may sound like common sense but the analysis of how different studies show the expertise reversal effect (i.e. that teaching techniques which can be used effectively with novices often negatively affect more experienced learners) is illuminating. It prompted me to ask questions such as:

  • How should I establish learners’ levels of expertise?
  • How can I design learning to suit learners’ levels of expertise?
  • How can I cater to classes with mixed levels of expertise?

I was also interested to see the article throw new light on some of the principles upon which I base my presentation design. For a number of years I have worked to the principles espoused by Ned in Good Presentations Matter, many of which are based on Mayer’s Multimedia Learning (2001). For example, based on the spatial and temporal contiguity principles, I present relevant pictures with text on slides whilst verbally explaining the point to the audience. However, Kayluga et al. believe that showing pictures and text simultaneously is only advantageous if both elements cannot be understood in isolation, otherwise it can hinder learning. This prompted me to ask questions such as:

  • How can I establish whether presentation elements can be understood in isolation by different leaners?
  • How relevant are some of the images I use in my presentations?
    • On reflection, in trying to incorporate images into my presentations I sometimes stretch the boundaries of relevance, which may be hampering my audience’s learning
  • Am I being too dogmatic in my application of learning principles?
    • i.e. Is the above point regarding images symptomatic of my trying to stick too closely to the letter of a particular principle?

I feel the answer to the last two questions is “yes” and I need to rethink my approach but I don’t have answers to the other questions yet.

This article has given me a different perspective on teaching and highlighted that I need to update and learn more in this area – I would welcome any discussion.