Novices and experts

23 September 2004

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was commenting on a recent edition of the JM (well actually it was a couple of months). Anyway, I’m just reading the latest edition 28(5), that is a special edition on problem based learning.

The editors’ introduction, Citing Gijselaers and Woltjer, talks about the different ways of knowing that seem to apply to novices and experts. They say:

… novices tend to organise their knowledge representations around the specifics of the problem, where as experts move to the more abstract level to see the general principles.

How true this rang with my own experience. In my classes Business policy & strategy and Management theory & practice, (and to a lesser extent Organisation & Management), I constantly see students anchoring on the details of a problem and finding it hard to work with the more abstract concepts. My experience has been that the more abstract a concept is, the bigger a ‘lever’ it is, and the more universal it is. Alas, I’ve never found a satisfactory way to get this across, and I suppose it is to be expected as it is hard to shift one’s anchor (there are some strong links here to sense-making etc).