Expert to Novice and back again

Problem Solving Knowledge Transfer: An Expert's Perspective by DeAnna Myers is a Capstone research report from Northwestern's Master in Learning and Organizational Change (where I was on faculty for a few years).  Abstract:

Engineering firms in the power generation industry, like many knowledge organizations, commonly attempt to sustain their intellectual capital by utilizing in-house experts to train novice staff, but an expert’s ability to predict what is necessary to transfer knowledge to novice learners can be compromised by biases associated with an expert’s superior level of expertise (Hinds, 1999). This study surveyed how one organization’s experts perceive the task of novice-level knowledge transfer, and compared these perceptions to feedback from novices who participated in their classes. Findings from the study suggest that experts misdiagnose novice learning needs and though they usually attempt to adjust content to accommodate the novice learner, those adjustments are less successful than the experts perceive.

There are some classic knowledge transfer / knowledge sharing aspects mentioned in this study.  The report looks at the expert's approach to knowledge transfer within an organization. I see similar things happening when outside experts come in as well, but then there is another layer of cultural concerns, such as "not invented here."

I could imagine a parallel study that looks at the novice's ability to "know what she doesn't know" and know how to ask questions.  There are, of course, many pieces to this puzzle, but it is always good to see people thinking about it.

2 Comment(s)

DCMyers Author Profile Page said:

I love, love your "not invented here" comment. In the final analysis of my paper, I had to fess up that a sharing culture had to be an assumption as the issues resident to the effect of culture on the transfer of knowledge could define a whole other study. In the literature review, there was much discussion as to whether "non-local" offerings were as effective as "developed in house" training. Leadership skills is a great example of such. The idea that anyone other than a local expert could effectively address leadership skill development within a given organizational culture is an issue I am struggling with presently.

I also considered your idea of the novice's ability to know what they don't know, in fact a few of my experts commented on that at one reason novices did not learn. I believe that will likely be the next effort. Thanks for your your mindful comments! Best - DeAnna

Well, after reading the whole research report, I have a feeling that the experts are unfairly done. The success of the novice to grasp the knowledge being transferred is entirely put on experts. Work environment is a highly-specialized one and unlike educational institutions, it is hardly equipped to cater for varying novices’ learning expectations and capabilities. Yes, with more time and money put into novice-level knowledge transfers, in addition to novice learning capability studies you are imagining, knowledge transfer from experts to novices can be improved. Great post, keep them Knowledge Management posts coming.

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