Data Helps Us Avoid “The Curse Of Knowledge”

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A first-of-its-kind program offered at Carnegie Mellon University will help create the learning engineers of the future by using big data:

“The new Learning Science and Engineering Professional Masters Program at CMU will teach students how to use and analyze big data to develop and evaluate educational programs in a variety of settings, including schools, workplaces, museums and other locations. Through the use of data, the program’s students can better understand human learning and create educational technologies that increase student achievement.

‘Technology has really transformed how we teach,’ said Ken Koedinger, professor at CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and director of the Pittsburgh Science and Learning Center. ‘The availability of data on how people learn provides us with the opportunity to create more engaging and effective instruction. We want to create learning engineers people who not only understand their subject area, but the science behind learning.’

One problem with relying only on subject matter experts for course development is that experts can only articulate about 30 percent of their knowledge, Koedinger said. Using data, learning engineers can identify trouble areas for students and address issues that a subject expert may miss.” (Read more here.)

This is a really important development. There’s been a lot of excitement in recent years around educational technology, but the fact is that if that technology is not informed by an understanding of how people learn (which we now have, thanks to research in cognitive science and psychology), it’s unlikely to be any more effective than traditional instruction.

I’m also fascinated by the notion that “experts can only articulate about 30 percent of their knowledge.” This is called the “curse of knowledge”—experts become so well-practiced in their field that they literally can’t imagine what novices don’t know. But I’ve never seen a number put to it before.

(Reminds me of watching a friend who’s a very good cook teach another friend how to make risotto. The first friend added warm chicken stock to the simmering pot of rice, a little bit at a time. “When do add the stock?” asked the second friend of the good cook. “When the risotto needs it,” she replied. She knew so well when the risotto looked like it “needed” more stock that she couldn’t imagine not knowing.)

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2 Responses to “Data Helps Us Avoid “The Curse Of Knowledge””

  1. Sue Frantz says:

    I wonder where that 30% number comes from. How does one even measure how much knowledge an expert has let alone how much of that is communicated?

  2. I’m reading a book right now about how to share your knowledge effectively with others: “Made to Stick,” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2007.

    Heath and Heath write extensively about “the curse of knowledge.” Perhaps you know the book? For me, as a teacher, is a very interesting point of view.

    They also have an e-book called “Teaching That Sticks.” I want to read that too!

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