Expertise refers to the skillset and the knowledge required to distinguish a pro from a novice. Webster’s and encyclopedias refer expert as an individual with remarkable insight and profound skills about a particular domain, which he/she has acquired through training and professional practice (Webster’s, 1976). It is often said that humans, possessing prime mental faculties are the only species that acquire knowledge in such a way that they can earn expertise (Anderson, 2009). The notion of expertise is not clearly described in psychology. That is why it is always assessed by the presence or absence of specific parameters. Like the performance, the cumulative years of experience, and cognitive capacity. The study of the psychological aspect of attaining expertise has been revitalized recently by the arrival of expert analysis systems. However, the studies of expertise could be traced back earlier in psychology. These pioneer researches on judgment and decision-making served as hindsight in the modern analysis of attaining expertise (Hoffman R.R.1998). Attaining expertise also follows the gradual learning technique starting from the fundamental skills while practising the application of the principles of the concerned domain. The other part of this processing is more integral, which is the application of critical thinking to solve complex problems. The acceptance of learning is the gateway to attaining expertise. “There is a relatively widespread conception that if individuals are innately talented, they can easily and rapidly achieve an exceptional level of performance once they have acquired basic skills and knowledge” (Ericcon, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993, p.366).
Stages in the development of expertise:
The acquisition can also be regarded as the attainment of expertise. According to psychological studies and research, three stages are involved in this attainment, cognitive, associative, and autonomous. The acquisition of a particular skill is a gradual process that hones the ability of the individual to perform the required tasks. The systematic approach of the stages makes the person capable of learning to execute the skills more appropriately. The experts in any specific field have established a long term working-memory during practice; this marks the difference in the performance of the expert and the novice (Postal, Virginie.2004). For instance, the comparison between the sports record in the beginning to contemporary times signifies the immense impact of the practice. Like in 1912, the athlete who set the world record of the 100-meter race in 10.6 seconds and now changing the statistics will reveal how progressively the practice has brought the time, less than 10 seconds.
The first stage is the cognitive stage, the most basic of all. In the cognitive stage, an individual identifies the skill and passes himself through the series of rehearsing, rational thinking, and fact encoding (Anderson, 2009). Individuals begin to observe, analyze, judge, and find reasons. Thus the cognitive level focuses only on the in-depth understanding of the crux.
The second stage is the associative stage, focusing on two things. In the wake of the previous findings and observations, the learner finds the errors and the loopholes and then eliminates them to get perfection (Anderson, 2009, pg. 244.). Apart from the troubleshooting process, this stage involves some hands-on practice. This practice increases the ability to use acquired skills.
The third stage is referred to as the autonomous stage. Now reaching to that stage, the learner has deliberately observed, thought, and practised. In the autonomous stage, the individual executes the skill or the task entirely automatically. They are thus signifying that through practice, the learner has acquired the expertise and can now achieve it without giving a thought to it. The automaticity also shows that gradually the cognition drops out of the execution as a person gets more skilful (Anderson, 2009). If a person achieves this level of expertise, then he experiences liberation from outside influences and carries on executing the task instinctively, flawlessly, and fluently.
Relationship between long-term memory and expertise:
Long-term memory and expertise have a profound relationship. As individuals practice a domain to get expertise, they tend to build a better capability to store this information in long-term memory. Furthermore, the more exceptional the practice and expertise, the higher will be the ability to retrieve it. To devise the relation between expertise and long-term memory, Charnes compared the chess position memory of the experts at two times: first after seeing the position immediately, second after a 30-second delay involving an interfering task. The higher class of experts didn’t have trouble recalling the pattern even after a 30-sec interval. On the contrary, the weaker ones faced difficulty in retrieving. Further, the series of experimentation also revealed that the remarkable long-term memory of these class A chess player was only limited to chess as they showed poor memory for remembering the three-lettered diagrams.
Dimensions of attaining expertise:
There are various possible dimensions in which an individual can develop expertise. One of the aspects is tactical learning, where the sequence of actions is learned, which can provide the right approach to solve any problem. There is another approach for tactical learning that states that; the mechanism of skill acquisition involves recalling the solutions to the issues that have been previously solved (Logan, 1988). Through the series of their alpha arithmetic experiments, it was observed that as individuals practice more, their minds tend to shift from computation to retrieval. In more psychological terms, the activation of the brain shifts from the frontal cortex to the posterior areas of the cerebral cortex. Another integral dimension of attaining expertise is pattern learning and memory. It is a fact that the experts seem to exhibit an enhanced memory as compared to the beginners; this factor distinguishes them from others. The fact was determined in an attempt to examine how the master and weak chess players can be identified; There was no contrasting difference except that the subjects were presented the chess pieces for 5 seconds, and they were asked to reconstruct it. The elite chess players were able to reconstruct approx. 20 pieces, while the novices were able to reconstruct just 4 to 5 pieces (de Groot, 1965). According to an approximation, a chess master has almost got himself acquainted with approximately 50000 chess patterns. This broad expertise makes them able to recognize a pattern quickly. It forms the basis of superior memory performance during the game (Simon and Gilmartin, 1973). Here another notable thing is that expertise is not the function of practice alone; even the most highly experienced individuals can increase the level of performance by conducting deliberate efforts (Ericsson et al. 1993).
In a nutshell, gaining expertise in any domain demands years of practice and experience. The individual has to go through the acquisition stages to ensure systematic learning. Initially, starting from the cognitive skills, the individual must be able to observe, reason, and judge to attain the in-depth knowledge of the domain. After the domain is rooted well, the individual needs to practically implement the learnings in solving the problems and troubleshooting the learnings. Only after passing through this arduous practice can the individual shift liberate practices from deliberate control. After achieving automaticity, the individual is finally capable of performing the task instinctively and flawlessly.