4.1 Expert ‘blind spots’

Two related theories help support the proposition that students benefit from opportunities for collaboration with one another.

First, as an expert learner in a specific field, a lecturer might have developed what researchers call “expert blind spots”: in other words, they are no longer able to see the material as a new learner sees it. You might have found this in your experience thus far as a teacher: you explain something to a student that seems quite clear to you, but the student seems baffled.

Researchers who study this problem have pointed out that experts, when they are explaining their subject matter to a new learner, often skip over steps or concepts that have become so automatic to them that they are no longer consciously aware of them.

For example, if an expert swimmer were to teach someone to swim, the expert might focus on helping someone to develop perfect form in the motion of the arms and legs. In the meantime, the student might be gasping for air, as the teacher failed to instruct them in how to breathe properly throughout the strokes—something that the teacher does automatically and took for granted the learner would know.

Unit 4: The social nature of learning

4.2 Zone of proximal development