The Expert Doesn’t Know What They Know

The Subject Matter Expert, or SME, (see Glossary) is that individual who has a depth of expertise in a given subject that, theoretically, can be converted into a methodically transferrable skill set and transferred to an individual of a lesser skill level. In order to be an expert, it’s necessary that the individual has incorporated their particular expertise, to a very large degree, into the fibers of their being, more specifically, into their unconscious competence. (see “Consciousness Spectrum” )

That the expert no longer has to think about how, and what, operations, they perform, and in what sequence they perform them, in carrying out a particular skillset presents a lot of problems for skill transference. Why? Because, surprisingly, the expert is the absolutely worst person to now know what it is that they do and do not know about the very subject in which they have become an expert.

Because their expertise is now firmly established in their unconscious competence, it’s very difficult to extract from them all the nuances of that expertise that they now execute with very little thought. They are in the worst position to be able to consciously access the countless, and infinitesimally small distinctions they routinely make that actually make all the difference between success and failure in reproducing that expertise. This, therefore, makes it incredibly difficult for them to reliably transfer those specifics to their students.

As a result, the following are some of the many points at which the transfer of skill then simply FAILS:

  • Because there are many skill segments in which the expert no longer even sees the distinctions that they make, key distinctions are then then left out of the instruction, not transferred to the student, and as a result, the student fails to acquire the skillset.
  • There are segments of the skillset that the SME dismisses out-of-hand because they don’t deem them important enough to teach, or assumes that they don’t pose a significant hurdle to the student (eg setting up the snowboard bindings, strapping into the snowboard, etc). This is mainly because, for the expert, those micro-skills have become so buried in their unconscious competence, and, from their perspective, are so ridiculously easy for them to execute, that they aren’t taught explicitly. Again, key distinctions of the skill set are then overlooked, not transferred to the student, and the student, predictably, fails to acquire the skillset.
  • Cumulatively, the instructor then also makes the mistake of glomming too many individual pieces together, that need to be orchestrated simultaneously. For the instructor, the micro-skills are seen to be easily executed.  Therefore, they tend to string them all together as if they are only one skill segment. Unfortunately for the student, who has little grasp on any one of the many pieces, attempting to put them all together, simultaneously, only exacerbates the execution challenge for the student. As a result, the student, also, often becomes and discouraged. Yet, for the student, successfully executing and one individual piece is a challenge. Attempting multiple pieces simultaneously is simply impossible.(eg kiteboarding – none of the individual actions has been mastered to unconscious competence and then you’re expected to string them together effectively – this is indisputably crazy, and an insane recipe for failure, or worse disaster!) (see “Go-Slow-to-Go-Fast,” “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment”)
  • The instructor fails to build skill in various safety measures into the sequence, partially or wholly. For the expert, many safety measures are overlooked, simply because the risks don’t look significant to the individual that is skilled at managing the involved risks, due to their expertise.  This is simply not the case for the novice. (eg knowing to set the emergency parking brake in stick shift driving or to wear additional safety equipment for snowboarding, being able to snowboard over ice, etc) (see “Safety Skill Elements” )
  • The SME confuses an Information Dump on the student with real-world skill transference and acquisition. When the expert assumes that disseminating information is the same thing as transferring a skill, the student is left to their own devices to attempt to parse all the material presented, and then convert that information into ways to practice the skills that they’ve only learned about.  One can have read or heard all the theory in the world about, say, skydiving, scuba diving, kayaking, etc – the problem is that you can get yourself killed if you assume having information is the same thing as possessing the unconscious competence hardwired in for that skill. (see “Information Dump VS Skill Transfer”)

So, what’s the answer to all these problems??? Why, the Rapid Skill Transfer PROTOCOL, of course!! (see “What exactly IS the ‘protocol’ in RSTP?” )

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