Learning any subject or skill can go a long way, difficult and full of obstacles. Whether it is to acquire a university degree, to speak a new language or to know how to cook, all are learning which involves many stages, all essential.
It often happens that as we become more qualified in certain knowledge and skills, we “forget” everything that led us to learn, thinking that those new to this knowledge may miss certain stages in which we do not understand. do not realize that they are learning.
This whole idea comes to be what is called the expert’s blind spot, a cognitive bias that occurs in people who have successfully acquired broad knowledge in some knowledge. Let’s take a closer look.
What is the expert’s blind spot?
We think of the following situation: We walk down the street and a man stops us, revealing himself to be an exchange student from the United States. The boy asks us to teach him to speak Spanish, to which we answered yes. We become his friend and we meet a few days a week to give him “lessons”. After several weeks of trying to teach things, we see that you have only learned the most basic sentences and the occasional word and that’s when we wonder what we failed at.
Back to our “lessons”. We start with something sweet, the basic phrases and vocabulary he learned, but then we see that we jumped to the verb tenses, thinking the American would catch them at first. We thought that its acquisition could be done by the natural method, simply by “capturing” in which situations it is advisable to use such or such verbal form. We insisted on it and we see that we are stuck, that he is not learning any more.
One of the most common problems when learning languages (and any other subject) is believing that native speakers of the target language are experts at teaching their own language.. We can really say that Spanish speakers are oral experts: they know when to use the tenses of verbs, the appropriate vocabulary for each register and situation, to have a fluent conversation and rich in subject matter … but what all the world don’t know is like teaching your own language because they don’t have the educational tools to teach it to a native speaker of another language.
This whole hypothetical situation describes an example of what the expert’s blind spot would be, which is the cognitive bias that occurs when someone who has an in-depth knowledge of a particular subject or skill has lost sight of how difficult it is to acquire that skill. In this case, the person who tried to teach Spanish to the American ignored the fact that he had learned his mother tongue after many years of being immersed in it, feeling at home and studying in such a way. more in-depth at school. Unlike a Spanish teacher, a native speaker, even if he can speak, cannot teach.
The expertise model
Obviously, you cannot teach what you don’t know, that is, what I have no in-depth knowledge of. However, and as we introduced with the previous example, having a broad mastery in a certain subject or skill is not a guarantee that we will be able to teach it under conditions, in fact it is even possible that it makes it our job to teach if we don’t know exactly how to do it.
The idea of the expert blind spot which, as we have mentioned, is the situation in which a person knows a lot but does not know how to teachThis is an idea that at first glance may seem counterintuitive but, taking both the above example and the things that happen to us in our daily lives, it is highly likely that more than one will feel identified with this situation. It has surely happened to us on several occasions that we have been asked how to prepare a dish, get to a place in advance or play a sport that is very well given to us and we were not able to do well there. ‘explain. This is a very common situation.
Our knowledge influences the way we perceive and interpret our environment, determining how we reason, imagine, learn and remember. Having a vast substratum of knowledge on a given subject gives us an advantage, because we know more, but at the same time makes us have the mind as a little more “rebellion”, with a tangle of threads which represent the different knowledge that we have internalized but that we do not know how to scroll in an educational way towards a person who wants to learn.
Understanding the phenomenon of the expert’s blind spot we must first understand how the process goes from the greatest ignorance to the expertise of a given knowledge, Having the model proposed by Jo Sprague, Douglas Stuart and David Bodary. In their model of expertise, they explain that to achieve a broad mastery of something, it is necessary to go through 4 phases, which are distinguished according to the acquired competence and the degree of awareness concerning the assimilated knowledge.
1. Unconscious incompetence
The first phase of the model is when a person barely knows anything about the discipline or skill that they have just started to learn., Being in a situation of unconscious incompetence. The person knows very little, so little that he is not even aware of how much he has yet to acquire and how little he really knows. He does not have enough knowledge to determine his interest in the knowledge he is acquiring, nor does he appreciate the importance it may have for him in the long run.
His ignorance can lead him to be the victim of a curious psychological phenomenon: the Dunning-Kruger effect. This particular cognitive bias occurs when the person, despite having very little knowledge, believes himself to be an expert, ignoring everything he does not know and even believing in the ability to argue at the level of an expert in matter. It is what is known colloquially in Spain “cuñadismo”, that is to say showing an attitude of who claims to know everything, to be sure of it, but who in reality does not know anything.
Everyone falls victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect at some point in their life, Especially when they have just started some sort of course and it makes them feel that what they are being taught is very easy, underestimating the real difficulty of learning.
2. Conscious incompetence
As we progress in learning, we realize that we don’t really know much and that we still have a lot to learn. This is where we enter a moment where we are aware of our incompetence in the matter, that is, we realize that we are still quite ignorant. We realized that what we wanted to learn was actually more complex and larger than we initially thought..
At this point we have started to estimate our options for mastering the subject and how much effort we will need to invest. We begin to consider the value of this particular knowledge, along the way and whether it makes sense to move forward. This assessment of our own ability to continue to progress and the importance we attach to acquiring this knowledge are the two most important factors that condition the motivation to continue learning.
3. Conscious competence
If we decide to continue to be in the second phase sooner or later, we enter the third, which is achieved after putting in a great deal of effort and dedication. At this stage we have become consciously competent, a situation in which we know everything we have learned, although we may be a little slow to explain or very careful to test our skills, for fear of making a mistake.
4. Unconscious competition
The fourth and final phase of the expertise model is the one in which we have unconsciously become competent. What does it mean? This means that we have become experts in a certain skill or discipline, being very fluid and efficient when it comes to putting our knowledge into practice. The problem is, we are so proficient that we lose our ability to “explain” everything we do. It is not so natural that we skip steps that we consider unnecessary, we do things faster, we act as if by inertia …
The expert has so much knowledge that he can perceive things that non-experts in the field do not appreciate, and can reflect much more critically and deeply on different knowledge related to what he has learned. You can easily see the relationships between different aspects of what an expert is because by having a broad field you can find their similarities and differences more automatically. Their perception, imagination, reasoning and memory work differently
Ironically, at this point there is just the opposite effect to the Dunning-Kruger effect: impostor syndrome. The person knows a lot, so much so that, as we have said, he thinks automatically and by inertia and therefore does not realize what he really knows. Although she is an expert, she does not feel safe in situations where her knowledge is required.
What does all of this have to do with the expert’s blind spot?
Well the truth is that a lot. As we have seen, when we become experts in a certain subject, there is a point where our knowledge and skills become something very internalized, so much so that we are not even aware of all the processes and actions. that we perform related to it. In addition to practice and knowledge, it is easier for us to do things. Something that used to cost us some time to do now we only take a few minutes.
Let us return to the example of the principle. Do all of us who speak Spanish constantly think about how to structure sentences grammatically correctly? Are we aware of how we should pronounce each phoneme in each word? When we say “house” do we literally mean “house”? Maybe a small child is careful not to make bad sentences or make sound mistakes, but of course a native adult will speak much more naturally and fluently.
As adults, we skipped all of these steps because we rarely make a pronunciation error or make a grammatically strange sentence. We have internalized the word. However, we have to understand that at some point in our language learning we had to go through these processes because if we had not been aware we would never have internalized them or learned to speak properly. The problem is that it is ignored in adults and, although with good intentions, when it comes to teaching the language to a foreigner, you don’t know how to do it.
all that this allows us to reflect on the importance for anyone who wants to teach something not only to know that thing, but also to know how to teach. For example, language teachers should not only know how to speak the language they are teaching, but also how to teach it to specific foreign language speakers, the age and level of the speaker in question and whether you are having difficulty. pronunciation associated with your mother tongue.
This, of course, can be extrapolated to other topics. One of the things that has been criticized in education is that many teachers who are experts in their subjects such as math, social science, natural science … overestimate their students’ ability to learn the subject. These teachers have internalized the knowledge they are teaching so much that they do not give enough importance to certain stages in the belief that students already know them or will understand them quickly. You may see your students as “little experts” and the teacher may end up missing some really crucial steps.
Considering all this It is essential that the actual pace of student learning is taken into account when designing the educational program., Don’t assume anything and make sure that teachers, in addition to being experts in the content they teach, are also experts in sharing it. The expert’s blind spot bias is like a curse that he knows a lot about, that he knows so much that he cannot explain it, and a good teacher is above all someone who knows. share knowledge.
- Sprague, J., Stuart, D. and Bodary, D. (2015). The lecturer’s manual, spiral bound version. Learn Cengage.
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- Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Major, LE (2014). What makes it a great teaching? Review of basic research.