The perils of abstraction

Charles Scalfini gives a concise explanation of a way experts often make bad teachers.  As their experience in a subject grows, they are able to form more and more useful abstractions.

But they then attempt to teach their students these abstractions in ways that bypass the experiences on which they are based. If we add to this the high status ascribed to experts, the problem is increased, as students feel they need to act like they understand, still deprived of the underlying experiences from which we truly learn.

And this leaves out the possibility that expert abstractions can be mistaken – which I explored here.

Many training courses are made attractive by offering high-status abstractions, suggesting things like emotional intelligence can be taught by the transfer of dense, expert content.

But many of the most powerful experiences in training come from experimentation and practice, not explanation. (I’ll be exploring this in my January workshop in Cambridge – details here.)

Hat tip: Tweet from Sunil Malhotra

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