Trainer as an expert, what Gladwell failed to elaborate: mindFly


Nothing beats experience. In his bestselling book Outliers (Gladwell & Rea,2008), Malcolm Gladwell advocates that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to get good at anything “the magic number of greatness.” Indeed with experience comes a more in-depth and more accurate understanding of the subject matter. The theory is criticized by many experts. They believe that practice alone cannot qualify anyone as an expert. As per a Princeton study:

• In games, practice made for a 26% difference

• In music, it was a 21% difference

• In sports, an 18% difference

• In education, a 4% difference

• In professions, just a 1% difference

What should be the qualification of a trainer? Should the trainer be just competent like a line pilot or should she/he have a higher level of qualification?

The industry uses the terms proficient and competent interchangeably. Competency-based training methodologies use the term expert when describing the trainers. These methodologies, however, do not define what an expert is. Let us look at the level of skill development.

The Dreyfus model of Skill Acquisition

The Dreyfus model classifies skill acquisition into five levels (Dreyfus,2004). It is an overarching integrative approach to professional activities, which incorporates both routings and the decisions to use them, while still maintaining that the term ‘skilled behaviour connotes semi-automatic rather than deliberative processes.


  • Rigid adherence to taught rules or plans
  • Little situational perception
  • No discretionary judgment

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


  • Coping with crowdedness
  • Now sees actions at least partially in terms of longer-term goals
  • Conscious, deliberate planning
  • Standardized and routinized procedures


  • See situations holistically rather than in terms of aspects
  • See what is most important in situation
  • Perceives deviations from the normal pattern
  • Decision making less laboured
  • Uses maxims for guidance, whose meaning varies according to
  • the situation


  • No longer relies on rules, guidelines or maxims
  • Intuitive grasp of situations based on the deep tacit understanding
  • Analytical approaches used only in a novel situation or when problems occur
  • The vision of what is possible

Trainer level

The trainer must, therefore, attain a level of Proficient or an Expert. It helps build confidence in the trainee and secondly for an efficient flow of information. Amongst other aspects, the instructor must have a good conceptual knowledge of the areas of competencies. The instructor needs to record, assess, evaluate and provide solution or recourse in the event of a problem identified during the training. An expert level in the competencies will help achieve these critical requirements.

According to Dreyfus, Competence is the climax of the rule-guided learning an discovering how to cope in crowded, pressurized contexts. Whereas proficiency marks the onset of quite a different approach to the job: normal behaviour is not just routinized but semi-automatic; situations are apprehended more deeply, and the abnormal is quickly spotted and given attention. Thus progressing beyond competence depends on a more holistic approach to situational understanding.

Progression from proficiency finally happens when the decision making, as this requires significantly more experience. Dreyfus does acknowledge that experts will deliberate before acting on some occasions, either because the outcomes are mainly critical or because they feel uneasy with their first choice of action (Eraut, 2008).

Experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment. This, in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.


Fundamental principles of experts knowledge

1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.

2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.

3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or a proposition but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.

4. Experts can flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attention effort.

5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they can teach others.

6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

Summary: mindFly Human Factor

Being Competent is a qualification. If a person is competent, he qualifies to carry out work, which is repetitive or routine. When the task becomes more complicated, and when higher stakes are involved, mere competence will not suffice. The competence levels have to be raised to that of an expert. E.g., if you are looking at engaging a lawyer to contest a vital lawsuit, which will decide the outcome of your business, or when the stakes are high, a mere competent lawyer will not suffice. You will look for an expert or renowned lawyer who has a higher level of knowledge and skills.

Read the full paper ” Trainer as a subject matter expert”.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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