Business as Unusual: How to train when expertise becomes outdated

What do we do when rapidly changing conditions push the boundaries of expertise and traditional training approaches?

In a recent essay posted on medium.com, Gary Klein explores emerging thoughts about how expertise has changed, what it means to be an expert, and how training must be re-imagined to address these issues. This is Part 1 of a 4-part blog series highlighting key insights from his essay. Although Gary uses the COVID-19 pandemic as a current, real-world example to illustrate these concepts, it is important to note that the pandemic serves as merely a backdrop for discussing the impacts rapid change can have on expertise and training.

Expertise is becoming outdated more and more quickly, especially in emerging domains such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and information technology. But other more “slow-moving” domains such as law enforcement and maintenance technicians are being affected by this phenomenon as well. Because of the evolving nature of expertise, traditional training approaches can’t keep up. Conventional training approaches involve identifying training requirements, determining the standards for performance, and then specifying procedures. These three approaches will be obsolete in rapidly changing contexts in which technology and solutions evolve much faster than training material can be updated.

One approach to the problem of outdated expertise is to engage in continuous learning and discovery and Just-in-Time training. However, this approach alone isn’t realistic because of the need for validation and standardization of training. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated these issues: at the beginning of the pandemic, there were not yet any COVID “experts,” few best practices about treating the disease, and medical professionals and the public were operating with very little data about key metrics such as the incubation period or even distinctive symptoms.

Despite the unexpected nature of the pandemic, medical professionals were still able to use their existing expertise and apply it to this novel situation. They used diagnostic equipment to detect and understand COVID; they quickly established PPE guidelines; they treated symptoms by using ventilators (which require skill and expertise to manage).

The next installments of this blog will suggest ways for re-thinking expertise, including the implications for identifying experts, and ideas for re-thinking training that can support areas of evolving expertise.