4 Differences Between Experts and Novices

  • Differences Experts and Novices Cognitive Training Psychology
The cognitive psychology and naturalistic decision making communities have developed an extensive amount of literature documenting the differences between novice and expert performance. Why is it important to compare the knowledge structure of experts with the knowledge structure of novices? By comparing experts with novices, we are able to specify how experts and novices differ in understanding, storing, recalling, and manipulating knowledge of a given domain (Bruer, 2010).

This is important because as learning professionals, we need to be aware that expert and novice learners demand different instructional approaches. Individuals learn by building on what they know. Therefore, developing “learning events for novices using the same instructional strategies as you do for someone who has a high level of knowledge in a content area” will not be as effective (Knapp, 2012). In order to design training that supports the learning process, it is essential to define these two levels of proficiency and understand the differences between them.

What exactly is an expert or a novice?

Differences Experts and Novices Training Performance Measures

Experts are individuals who know a great deal about a domain and understand how the discipline is organized. This includes an ability to comprehend and contribute to the language and methodology of the discipline. As an expert, performance becomes more intuitive and automatic. At this level of mastery, an individual immediately understands the critical aspects of a given situation and does not focus on the less significant attributes.

Novices are individuals who have limited or no experience in situations characteristic of their domain (as summarized by Ross, Phillips, Klein, & Cohn, 2005). A novice’s understanding of the discipline is based largely on rules. At this level, novice learners rely on facts and features of the domain to guide their behavior. Because of this, performance is quite inflexible and limited.

So, what are the differences?

According to Ross et al. (2005), some of the differences that were identified through research are that experts

  1. Notice meaningful patterns and characteristics of information that are not seen by novices;
  2. Spend more time analyzing what is going on in a situation and less time deliberating about what action to take;
  3. Have better metacognitive skills which enable them to monitor their own performance; and
  4. Detect problems and spot atypicalities as a situation progresses.

At CPG, we capture individual expertise to produce valid descriptive models of expert performance, cognitive competency models, developmental models of cognitive skill acquisition, and other decision-centered representations of skilled performance. To construct these models, we often define the levels of proficiency for the domain of interest using the cognitive task analysis method and determine which Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) are appropriate for each level. What methods do you use to determine levels of proficiency?


Bruer, J. (2010). The Mind’s Journey from Novice to Expert. Saint Louis, MO: James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Knapp, K. (2012). Some differences between experts and novices. Saddle River, NJ.

Ross, K. G., Phillips, J. K., Klein, G., & Cohn, J. (2005). Creating expertise: A framework to guide technology-based training. (Final Technical Report for Contract #M67854-04-C-8035 for the Marine Corps Systems Command/Program Manager for Training Systems). Fairborn, OH: Klein Associates.

Image credits: Image 1 and Image 2.



About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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