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Development of expertise: the role of complex problems, multiple perspectives, and integrative thinking

Historically, three principal conceptualisations of the development of expertise have been presented. First, Ericsson (2006) has coined the term deliberate practice to illustrate the process of expertise development. This concept arose from the observation that extensive experience in a domain does not automatically lead to superior performance, but that an intensive and goal-oriented pursuit of improvement is needed to achieve the highest levels of competence. Characteristic of deliberate practice is an individual’s intentional goal setting, continuous monitoring of his or her per-fonnance, and recognising errors and correcting them. The aim is to reach goals that are initially outside the individual’s achievement but that can be reached with intensive practice. What is of special importance in this is the role of the more experienced colleague, mentor, or coach whose feedback helps to identify the specific components of the task or performance that need improvement. Gradually, the performer acquires mechanisms that help him- or herself to self-evaluate and control his/her own performance. Thus, the acquisition of expertise can be described as a series of states with mechanisms for monitoring and guiding future improvements of specific aspects of performance (Ericsson, 2006).

Secondly, Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) have described expertise development as a process of progressive problem solving. A basic assumption in this model is problem solving at the core of an expert’s activities; in their daily work, professionals continuously solve more or less complicated problems. In these activities, knowledge transformations take place: “formal knowledge is converted into informal knowledge by being used to solve problems of understanding; formal knowledge is converted into skill by being used to solve problems of procedure” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993, p. 66). Roughly speaking, professionals can be divided into two groups when it comes to problem solving: first, there are individuals who develop routines that make their work easier and they keep solving familiar problems with familiar ways. At this level, such persons are generally referred to as routine experts. Another type of professional, often called adaptive experts (Hatano & Oura, 2003), utilise the automatisation and routinising of certain activities so that they can invest their freed mental resources in setting new tasks that are more challenging than the previous ones. In this way, they work on the limits of their competence and rise above their previous achievements while continuously solving more and more demanding problems. In this process of progressive problem solving, their expertise develops further, whereas the routine experts, although skilful, remain fixed at a certain stage in the development of their competence.

In fact, the definition of expertise development as “progressive problem solving” is similar to the concept of “deliberate practice”, which Ericsson (2006, p. 694) describes as follows:

The key challenge for aspiring expert performers is to avoid the arrested development associated with automaticity and to acquire cognitive skills to support their continued learning and improvement. By actively seeking out demanding tasks — often provided by their teachers and coaches - that force the performers to engage in problem solving and to stretch their performance, the expert performers overcome the detrimental effects of automaticity and actively acquire and refine cognitive mechanisms to support continued learning and improvement.

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) also pointed out that expertise goes beyond an individual activity. They emphasise the role of team work and workplace culture as a promoter of or barrier to progressive problem solving. Similarly, recent sociocultural theories have stressed that expert problem solving is a social process by nature. For example, Hakkarainen, Palonen, Paavola, and Lehtinen (2004) talk about networked expertise, and Engeström (2004) about negotiated knotworking. In these views, the development of expertise or progressive problem solving can be characterised as collaborative, expansive, and transformative learning.

The third model of expertise development utilises the concepts of deliberate practice and progressive problem solving, and integrates these with the descriptions of the nature of expert knowledge and adult thinking. According to the model of integrative pedagogy (e.g., Tynjälä, 2008; Tynjälä & Gijbels, 2012; Tynjälä, Häkkinen, & Hämäläinen, 2014; Tynjälä, Virtanen, Klemola, Kostiainen, & Rasku-Puttonen, 2016), expertise development can be advanced by supporting learners to integrate and fuse different elements of expert knowledge: conceptual (i.e., theoretical, declarative or statable knowledge), practical (i.e., procedural or experiential knowledge or skill), self-regulatory, and socio-cultural knowledge (e.g., Bereiter, 2002; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993; Eraut, 2004; Le Maistre & Paré, 2006; Tynjälä, 2009). Although the different forms of knowledge can be analytically separated, in high-level expertise they are tightly integrated and fused together. For this reason, the Integrative Pedagogy model encourages learners (whether students or professionals) to make connections between these forms of knowledge.

While the first three forms of knowledge are personal, the fourth one, sociocultural knowledge, is an aspect included in practices and devices of social communities rather than possessed by individuals. For example, every workplace has its own written or unwritten rules on how things are to be taken care of. Therefore, socio-cultural knowledge can only be accessed by participating in communities of practice. The Integrative Pedagogy model is based on the idea that student learning in higher education and vocational education and training should involve participating in authentic practices in the workplace, or, if this cannot be organised, simulations of authentic practices can be utilised. The core processes in learning are problem solving and integrative thinking, which requires combining and fusing the different forms of knowledge.

Cognitive learning theories have suggested that learners benefit from working with various perspectives on a subject and obtaining multiple representations (Kallio, 1998; van Someren, Reimann, Boshuizen, & de Jong, 1998). For example, in a study conducted with students of business administration, the students with multiple perspectives applied their knowledge to complex tasks in a more flexible way than those who tackled the problems only from a single perspective (Stark, Gruber, Hinkofer, & Mandi, 2004, p. 59). Thus, it seems that examining things from different viewpoints is important for the development of thinking. Exposing learners to various perspectives seems to raise the level of complexity in thinking. For instance, Lehtinen (2002), upon examining university students’ studying of research methods, concluded that facing complexity from the very beginning helped learners to understand the domain better.

In summary, the conceptualisations of expertise development described above suggest that essential elements in this process are:

  • • intentional and goal-oriented pursuit of better performance and understanding;
  • • continuous individual and social problem solving and challenges that go beyond earlier tasks;
  • • integrative thinking involving connecting and fusing different forms of knowledge and pondering problems from different angles.

In the next section, we examine integrative thinking in more detail.

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