The Expert Mind

Philip Ross wrote a good review on The Expert Mind (Scientific American via elearningpost via elearnspace via Stephen's Edu_RSS). Some excepts:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence.

Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise.

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. What is more, the demonstrated ability to turn a child quickly into an expert--in chess, music and a host of other subjects--sets a clear challenge before the schools. Can educators find ways to encourage students to engage in the kind of effortful study that will improve their reading and math skills?

"Effortful study" is related to ACT-R theory and in some ways just seems to be common sense. What seems to be missing in this article is the recognition that the 10-year rule when applied to reading and math equals 20 years, unless we double the total amount of "effortful study" in each and every day. Although we might argue that reading (especially reading) and math have greater application to more subjects, it would still mean that students would need to focus on a career subject at an early age in order to become an expert.

The ten-year rule also puts into better perspective why people take so long to acquire a second language. Language fluency requires expertise in the language. Add to that expertise in writing in a second language means adding even more time.

The article also notes that experts do not exist in abundance:

Without a demonstrably immense superiority in skill over the novice, there can be no true experts, only laypeople with imposing credentials. Such, alas, are all too common. Rigorous studies in the past two decades have shown that professional stock pickers invest no more successfully than amateurs, that noted connoisseurs distinguish wines hardly better than yokels, and that highly credentialed psychiatric therapists help patients no more than colleagues with less advanced degrees.

Some questions: Is this a problem for education? In general? That is, should people in general strive for expertise in their fields? Or simply to be competent? With respect to second language learning, how should the 10-year rule affect our approach to language teaching and our expectations about language learning?