Research: Adaptive Skill as the Conditio Sine Qua Non of Expertise

A great research paper "Adaptive Skill as the Conditio Sine Qua Non of Expertise" with links to many other studies on developing adaptability. The paper covers a lot of ground I feel is of great value to policing who are tasked with dealing with complex societal problems, crime, crises, conflict and violence and require the essential skill of adaptability to effectively applying courses of action. Here is a General Audience Summary:

Adaptive thinking is an area of concern for organizations, business, government, and society. Very little is known, however, about what makes an expert adaptive, or how the research that is relevant to this question has contributed to our understanding. This paper provides a taking-stock synthesis of the discussions and evidence that involve concepts of adaptive skill. We critically interpret a wide range of literature sources and stakeholder experiences as part of a review completed on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). The MOD is interested in the development of adaptive skills because these will be paramount in dealing with the future character of conflict, which is likely to be highly uncertain, and will present unique challenges as well as opportunities for the way we work. We present an overview of current models of expertise and discuss implications for future training by presenting evidenced-based training principles designed to develop adaptive skill. We assert that adaptive skill is the essential ingredient of expertise and conclude with suggestions for further research.

As I mentioned the report covers a lot of important ground but what caught my attention were the sections on Training Adaptive Skill and Adaptive Skills Training Principles I have taken excerpts from and posted here:

In a recent extensive review of the expertise and training literature in complex and dynamic environments (Hoffman, Ward, et al., 2014, p. 137), we merged the core ideas of these two theories (cognitive flexibility and cognitive transformation [CF-CT] theory merger) into a single set of postulates and principles. These emphasize the active and flexible nature of learning, and the limitations and incomplete nature of mental models. Moreover, they reiterate the self-reinforcing nature of reductive tendencies which are preserved through misconception networks and knowledge shields, which often lead to incorrect diagnoses and enable the discounting of evidence and alternative explanations. Training must support the learner in overcoming these phenomena and associated effects. Hence, training to develop adaptive skill, by definition, is likely to require some degree of unlearning or relearning and, therefore, likely requires at least some engagement in a safe-to-fail environment. Moreover, advanced learning is likely to be promoted by emphasizing the interconnectedness of multiple cases and concepts along multiple conceptual dimensions, and the use of multiple, highly organized representations.

Training that leverages these characteristics has already been shown to be effective in accelerating the development of expertise, largely by various researchers within the NDM community (see Hoffman et al., 2014b, Klein et al., 2001, Klein Associates, 1999). We expect that these training methods can promote development of the types of skills that are consistent with the notion of adaptive skill. For instance, one example of training requirements to develop adaptive skill was proposed by Lazzara et al. (2010). Their recommendations included cue-recognition training (i.e., proactive prompting towards important cues and debriefing focused on the process that led to misinterpretation and non-detection), sensemaking training (i.e., assigning meaning to and providing process feedback about contextual cues), planning and forecasting training (i.e., developing contingency plans or alternative courses of action that require consideration of potential second- and third-order effects), self- and team-metacognitive skills training (i.e., reflecting on comparison of trainees’ and experts’ mental models), and error-based training (i.e., error-management instructions for more advanced trainees).

The primary aim of these training requirements has been to help trainees develop better mental models by identifying gaps in their performance and thinking, and providing expert models from which learning can be scaffolded. It has also aimed to help more advanced trainees recognize when errors occur, cope with the negative aspects of committing errors, and learn how to prevent them. In the next section, we propose six training principles that should facilitate the development and acceleration of adaptive performance skill (see also Ward, 2014, Ward, 2015).

These ideas are consistent with what we have been teaching adaptability with Outcomes Based Training & Education (OBTE) OBTE is training from the Neck Up and is part of the adaptive Leader program and imparts the concepts and skill set necessary to become an adaptive organization, capable of handling conventional and unconventional crisis and conflict – balancing the harmonized effort of the traditionally centralized structures of organizations with the individual leadership, initiative and creativity found in learning organizations or bottoms up culture. Empower leaders, teams and individuals within your organization to seize opportunities and react to threats as they emerge.

This teaching methodology, is designed to develop core tangible and intangible competencies that teach police how to think versus telling them what to think, in context with the real world complex problems they are tasked with solving. Adaptability- an effective change to an altered situation; Sensemaking- one’s ability to size up situations; Problem solving- one’s ability to evaluate the adequacy of generated options and or choices; Meta-cognition- also called emotional intelligence or self-awareness that teaches, how to use strategies to monitor and self-regulate learning and cognition and; Attention control- one’s ability to deploy and focus efforts on a chosen course of action are the outcomes we seek in programs of instruction. The idea as mentioned in the research paper is to take people from routine expertise (policy and procedure, checklist, SOPs, recipes, school solutions) to adaptive expertise or a routine expert who acts with understanding, adapting to changes in the circumstances while keeping within the mission and intent. In other words we stop teaching by telling people what to do and start teaching people how to think and do.

The primary aim of these training requirements has been to help trainees develop better mental models by identifying gaps in their performance and thinking, and providing expert models from which learning can be scaffolded. It has also aimed to help more advanced trainees recognize when errors occur, cope with the negative aspects of committing errors, and learn how to prevent them. In the next section, we propose six training principles that should facilitate the development and acceleration of adaptive performance skill (see also Ward, 2014, Ward, 2015).

Its about challenging the learner through desirable difficulties. Desirable difficulties" is a term that Dr. Robert Bjork (UCLA) came up with over 20 years ago. It refers to conditions of learning that create challenges for learners--and even seem to slow down the rate of learning--but actually enhance long-term retention of knowledge and skills. What are some desirable difficulties and how do they improve learning? Take a look at this short video by Dr, Bjork:

There is ton of great information in this report so read it.

Stay Oriented!

Fred