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Novice v. Expert Problem Solvers

Novices and experts approach problems very differently. Broadly speaking, distinctions between their approaches include:

Novices... Experts...
  • Memorize how to solve specific problems.
  • Believe that you can solve most problems by memorizing only a few central principles.
  • Identify problems in terms of surface elements.
Ex.: "This is an inclined plane problem."
  • Identify problems using principles by which you can solve them.
Ex.:  “This is a friction and gravity problem.”
 
  • Believe that most problems are too difficult for them to solve.
  • Are confident that they can solve problems, work a long time before giving up, and do not believe that this is a waste of time.
  • Do not think about how they solve problems but instead just plow through them.
  • Are able and willing to evaluate their own thinking.
  • Move on to the next problem without considering possible connections between them or the concepts that may inform them.
  • After solving problems, review why the question was important, asking why the professor gave the assignment.

Related readings:

"Transforming Novice Problem Solvers Into Experts," 
Teach Talk Vol. XIII, No. 3, January/February 2001 (available on-line at http://web.mit.edu/tll/tll-library/teach-talk/transforming-novice.html).