Tuesday, 14 December 2010

So what exactly is an 'expert'?

The term 'expert' is defined as 'somebody with a great deal of knowledge about, or skill, training, or experience in, a particular field or activity'.

In CAD & BIM circles, the label AutoCAD 'expert', Revit 'expert', MicroStation 'guru', and so on, are used pretty liberally. In some cases, the monicker is perfectly justified. In others, however...

It's often interesting to capture a user's perception of how good they think they are at a particular software app, prior to them taking a skills assessment. We like to ask the following question:

Please rate yourself on your ability to use the software, for which you are about to take a test, on a scale of 1 to 5:

1 = Very basic knowledge; not enough to work confidently on a project
2 = Basic knowledge; can get by working on a project but could do better
3 = Good knowledge; can produce a good standard of work on projects
4 = Advanced knowledge; can teach the basics to others
5 = Expert knowledge; can perform and teach others at an advanced level

Interestingly, we are mirroring a recognised format for gauging skills measurement. In the fields of education and operations research, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition is a model of how students acquire skills through formal instruction. Brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus proposed the model in 1980 in an influential report on their research at the University of California, Berkeley, Operations Research Center for the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The model proposes that a student passes through five distinct stages; novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and expert.

1. Novice
"rigid adherence to taught rules or plans"
no exercise of "discretionary judgment"

2. Advanced beginner
limited "situational perception"
all aspects of work treated separately with equal importance

3. Competent
"coping with crowdedness" (multiple activities, accumulation of information)
some perception of actions in relation to goals
deliberate planning
formulates routines

4. Proficient
holistic view of situation
prioritizes importance of aspects
"perceives deviations from the normal pattern"
employs maxims for guidance, with meanings that adapt to the situation at hand

5. Expert
transcends reliance on rules, guidelines, and maxims
"intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding"
has "vision of what is possible"
uses "analytical approaches" in new situations or in case of problems

In the worlds of music and dance, becoming an expert requires an investment of approximately 10,000 hours in practice and execution!

Consider how this breaks down:

Hours per week Hours per year Years to achieve 'expert'

4 200 50
8 400 25
12 600 16.7
16 800 12.5
20 1,000 10
24 1,200 8.3

So the next time someone professes to be an expert, ask yourself, is that what they really mean?


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