Why formulaic guidance annoys experts and why they ignore the needs of the novice

Shirley is keen to do some more work on the “research note” suggesting a structure for a design theory/research thesis/paper. This was the appendix that was original part of Gregor and Jones (2007) but which JAIS decided not to publish. The main reason was that the reviewers thought it boiled down the process of publishing to a formula, and they obviously thought this was a bad thing.

The rejection by the reviewers is interesting because the research note has proven to be useful and interesting for a range of folk. Even before the 2007 publication we had received requests from at least one information systems Professor for a copy he could use in a doctoral seminar. I should point out that this gentleman (who shall remain nameless) has some significant runs on the board in terms of publications around information systems design theory. Shirley also continues to get requests for it.

We put the research note onto my blog in early Oct 2008 and have not widely publicised this. Even though, it has been viewed 114 times and is sitting at #10 of the top posts on my blog.

So why the disconnect?

The blindness of experts

I’m suggesting that this difference in response to the paper is based on a mismatch of requirements between a novice researcher (e.g. someone taking a doctoral seminar) and an expert researcher (e.g. a reviewer for a Tier 1 journal). What the novice researcher thinks is a god send, a way out of the swamp. The expert thinks is simplistic and demeans their expertise.

My argument is that the expert researcher is blind to the requirements of the novice, because the expert thinks differently and is not taking seriously the needs of the novice. The expert is doing the novice a disservice.

I’ll use the Dreyfus model of skills acquisition as the basis for my conclusion.

Dreyfus model of skills acquisition as an explanation

In earlier post I pointed to a video that was my introduction to the Dreyfus model of Skills Acquisition. Based on a paper title “A five-stage model of the mental activities involved in directed skill acquisition” the model identifies 5 stages of learning a new skill and the characteristics and requirements of people in each of those stages. See the following table for a summary of the model.

Novice-to-Expert scale
(Adapted from Lester (2005))
Stage Characteristics
Novice Rigid adherence to taught rules or plans
Little situational perception
No discretionary judgement
Advanced Beginner Guidelines for action based on attributes or aspects
Situational perception still limited
All attributes and aspects are treated separately and given equal importance
Competent Copying with crowdeness
Now sees actions at least partially in terms of longer-term goals
Conscious, deliberate planning
Standardised and routinised procedures
Proficient Sees situations holistically rather than in terms of aspects
Sees what is most important in a situation
Perceives deviations from the normal pattern
Descision-making less laboured
Uses maxims for guidance, whose meanings vary according to the situation
Expert No longer relies on rules, guidelines or maxims
Intuitive grasp of situations based on deep tacit understanding
Analytic approaches used only in novel situations or when problems occur
Vision of what is possible

One of the ideas underpinning this work is that if you want to help someone develop their skill you have to

  • Identify where they are located in terms of the skill?
    Are they a novice? Competent? etc.
  • Customise your “training” so that it fits what people at that level need and to help them move onto the next level.

So at which level would you place a reviewer for a Tier 1 journal? At which level would you put a doctoral student starting out on his PhD? Do you see how these two very different people require different assistance?

Conclusions

There is most definitely a place for the research note. It would serve a good purpose in helping novices move up the Dreyfus skill levels. However, it should be written to ensure that it helps novices move beyond the level of applying a formulaic approach to a deeper understanding.

One suggestion/thought that arises from this is that perhaps the research note should not be a straight forward formula. i.e. give the impression that the authors have agreed on a single structure that is suitable across all situations. Perhaps the research note needs to have some disagreement or other strategies to “appropriately” move the novices from the lower levels to the higher levels. Rather than present the end result of the “experts” formulation, perhaps it should show some of the questions and reasoning that informs the “experts” formulation.

References

Stan Lester, Novice to expert: the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition

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One thought on “Why formulaic guidance annoys experts and why they ignore the needs of the novice

  1. Pingback: PhD update #1 - the start of a tradition? « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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