It would be fair to say that most people respect the right of other people to hold an opinion different to their own. Its been somewhat tested of late, but its pretty much a cornerstone of our democracy. But whilst everyone is welcome to their own opinion, there seems to be a growing belief in certain quarters that every opinion is equally valid. Its clearly nonsense, but the idea that experts have no more to say on a subject than a lay person is not only incorrect, its downright dangerous. Just because an expert isn’t always correct in their assessment, it doesn’t mean their opinion should be held equally valid with someone who knows nothing at all about a subject. Unfortunately, the internet seems to be playing a part in this trend – mainly as a source of ‘instant opinions’. Doctors have gotten used to patients arriving in surgery with a firm view of whats wrong with them garnered from a self diagnosis and a round trip of medical websites using Google. But only the seriously misguided trust a Google search result over a doctors consultation. At its core, this is an attack on learning, something that Tutorhub cares about very much. We have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and resources to make available people who actually know what they are talking about on a wide range of subjects. Some know more than others, some have different styles of teaching, some are older, some are younger, but the whole point of Tutorhub is to learn from someone who knows more about a subject than you do.
An expert in other words.
We firmly believe that you can’t know everything all the time; its the smart person who recognises when they need help and reaches out to others to get it. So for all the worlds experts, we know that you’re not always right, but those of us here at Tutorhub are on your team.
In the modern era, where specialisation holds the keys to the kingdom, its worth remembering that it wasn’t always so. Hyper specialisation may be fashionable at the moment, but is it the only answer or even the correct answer with technology evolving so rapidly in most disciplines? Will the social media specialists of three years ago find themselves in such demand in three years time one wonders.
Asked to think of a famous polymath and Leonardo da Vinci will spring to mind. Artist, scientist and engineer; all time super hero, he hails from a time when it seemed possible to span enormous distances between disciplines. But a more recent example of successfully leveraging across disciplines might be Florence Nightingale. Mainly remembered as a nurse who tended to wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War, Nightingale was an accomplished mathematician who used statistics to in a modern and effective manner, a great social reformer and a medical innovator. What made Nightingale so effective was her ability to collect information at source, to collate it and present it in a thoroughly readable fashion. So far, so modern. The rose diagram that she (self-) published identifying cause of mortality in the British Army is a classic example of data visualisation that would make modern corporate power pointers hang their heads in shame.
Nightingale went on to set up the first modern school of nursing at St Thomas’ in London and was capable of leveraging skills from one discipline to another with great effect. Medicine, social reform, mathematics: all totally modern skills. Which begs a simple question: does it make you more effective to have an unusual set of skills or expertise that you can re-combine in unusual ways? Does it make sense to specialise in the modern sense or is it worth collecting together a eclectic set of skills before looking for ways to combine them in new fields. In many respects, becoming a traditional specialist is the easy way out – the pathways through education are neatly laid out and the problems are framed in a way that suits to knowledge base.
But does real innovation require a different way of looking at things, a combination of odd viewpoints?
The Education Endowment Foundation seems to be an interesting beast. At first glance, it looks like a really good thing, but I’ve learnt to approach such schemes with a degree of caution. Politics intrudes far too often in the world of education and you always need a healthy dose of scepticism. Still, any organisation that’s look to take a scientific approach to ‘what works’, to the extent of using randomised controlled trials, would appear to be on to something. I’ve always been of the belief that education should be the subject of sustained and relentless improvement, given its vital importance to our economy, our culture and our general wellbeing. If that’s a view thats supported by our political parties, then they do a poor job of translating talk into action.
If anyone has any experience or feedback from the EEF, I’d be keen to hear more.
The Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias suggests that if you have expertise or competence in a subject, you’re more likely to play down your capabilities than boast of your brilliance. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Low ability individuals massively over estimate their abilities in areas they know nothing about. We’ve all come up against this in real life, whether around the dinner table or when people in public life make bold statements about what is essentially unknowable i.e the future.
It feels to me that we all need to be on the look out for the impact of this simple cognitive bias. We live in a world where experts are ‘discredited’ and the ‘man in the street’ knows best. Dunning-Kruger suggests otherwise.