Expertise Reversal Effect

In a recent post I was wondering whether relative experts experiencing elearning might be hampered by split attention effects in a text + visuals condition as opposed to an audio narration + visuals condition.

Split attention is what happens when you ask learners to move their eyes back and forth between a visual image like a diagram or flow chart and a text-based explanation. Cognitive load rises, so learning falls.

But what is the role of expertise reversal here? The expertise reversal effect is a phenomenon where instructional features that help novices sometime depress learning for experts. For instance, supplementing a complex diagram with helpful explanations is good for novices. But relative experts actually learn less than if they just look at the diagram without the explanation. The idea is that analyzing the graphic forces deeper processing. With novices, the deeper processing forces cognitive overload, but experts have sufficient background knowledge to cope.

The other factor in play here is the redundancy principle. Information that is vital to novices is redundant to experts. Redundancy depresses learning. (For instance, read-the-screen audio depresses learning because it is redundant; better to have either just audio or just text.)

It appears there is evidence that the split attention effect is prone to expertise reversal. This is based on a literature review by Kalyuga et al. (2003), who describes experimental evidence where “The split-attention effect for novices was replaced by the redundancy effect for experts. An instructional design that included explanatory material in an integrated format was superior for novices but inferior for more knowledgeable learners, thus demonstrating an expertise reversal effect.” (p. 25)


3 thoughts on “Expertise Reversal Effect

  1. Rob Foshay

    Good to see you comment on this, Bob! There’s an important interaction here for instructional designers: if the designer is an expert, relative to the target audience, there’s a good chance they will under-prompt/explain. If the designer is a novice, relative to expert students, there’s a good chance they will over-prompt/explain. One of the hardest things for a designer to do is to design for learners who are markedly different from their own expertise and experience.

    1. Ellen

      Thinking of PLATO courseware, should we not have provided read-the-screen audio? (We could have saved a ton of money.) And I’m reminded of the fuss over whether we should read the reading passages to the student. Marketing wanted us to, as I recall, but we fought back and won. How about if there is audio but it’s not read-the-screen, but rather describe-the-graphic (or the math problem, or whatever)?

      1. robertmulcahy Post author

        I’m trying to remember back, and I’m not sure anymore where we used read-the-screen audio and where the audio was integrated. I remember being aware of the research base in favor of integrated audio over read-the-screen, but I’m not sure if we used integrated everywhere or if we had a mix over time. Read-the-passage audio would have been different as that was designed to build fluency. We built a lot of really interesting instruction back then.

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