The expertise reversal effect denotes the phenomenon that there is a difference in how an expert and a beginner best learn within a field. The material or course that works well for a beginner (simplified explanations, simple graphics, guided progression through the subject, etc.,) typically works very poorly for an expert. As experts have more developed schemas regarding the subject, they often prefer the opportunity to control their own work with the material and can understand more complicated explanations and diagrams than beginners can.
Beginners usually prefer to be "led by the hand" and receive thorough explanations. Pictures and illustrations should not have too many details.
Experts typically prefer to manage the process themselves. They know well what they know and don't know, and like to be able to jump around in the material. They prefer images with many details. Case-based learning, where experts are "thrown into" a problem they must solve, is typically also a good idea. Beginners risk cognitive overload if the task is too complex, which many cases are.
Somewhat simplistically, one can say that beginners like "explainer" videos that take them by the hand from A-Z, and for experts, one should consider whether they should just be allowed to read a text on paper, as this gives them maximum autonomy and they can thus dose the amount of information and pace themselves.
The expertise reversal effect is often a problem in situations where subject matter experts, who are not used to developing educational material, are to participate in the development of educational material aimed at beginners. Experts simply have a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of a beginner, and will often resort to more complicated and free learning designs, where there is a high risk of creating cognitive overload in the beginner's brain.
In my work, I often sit together with experts in a field and develop learning material for a group of people. The experts may themselves have spent 10-20 years acquiring the knowledge and experience in the field that we are to communicate together. Often the target group for what the experts and I are to create are beginners in the field. There are many, but fortunately not all, who see this as an opportunity to formulate EVERYTHING they know within their field. They probably think that if you then subsequently expose the recipients to this perfect amount of information, then they learn everything the expert knows. No one gets 20 years of experience and deep knowledge by reading a book, no matter how good it is.
Learning is a process, not a single event.
Therefore, it is important to find the right balance in the difficulty level for the target group, otherwise you risk losing them on the floor, either out of boredom, or because the material is too difficult.
Experts should typically hold back with the amount of information, and instead tell some stories about their field that the recipients can remember. They need to bring their passion for their field into play and respect that the recipients' working memory can't handle much information at a time.
Would you like to learn more?
If you are interested in reading more about the brain and learning, these articles might interest you.
- Self-Determination Theory: The most important theory on learning.
- Forced navigation - how NOT to design e-learning.
- Your Brain is NOT a Computer - About Predictive Coding
- Flick 2 learn. Why Interactive elearning is NOT always exciting
If you want to know more about digital learning and e-learning, you can start with our Elearning FAQ.