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Book Review: Ruth Clark’s Building Expertise—Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement

I’m reading Ruth Clark’s Building Expertise—Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. Clark, a specialist in instructional design, reminds us that our goals for docents include encoding long-term memory and aiding transfer (a learner’s ability to apply acquired knowledge in a variety of situations such as a docent might encounter in the galleries).

She provides what I consider useful methodologies for strengthening our efforts in these areas, while revealing just how complex our task as instructors is. I found myself squirming a little when what I read ran into what I know of the real life stresses museum environments place on our professional (and personal) time.

Clark bypasses debates over which learning models are best. Rather than favoring one over the other, she asks the question:

“Under what conditions will any given instructional method apply?”

Knowing that many philosophies of knowledge operate at any given time in a museum, I wonder how our institutions might benefit from asking the question above when planning experiences for visitors as well as docents.

Clark’s text refers frequently to e-learning, a still emerging instructional option as far as museums are concerned. She has quite a bit of expertise in this area. Click here for a link to some of her thoughts on the subject. Though e-learning is still pretty uncommon in museum environments, I wondered as I read if docent instruction, with its highly differentiated learner needs, might not benefit from such applications as part of the way we do things.

Though not a long book, Beyond Expertise is not a quick read. Having a museum education staff read it a chapter at a time followed by discussions of implications for and connections to current practice would be a helpful, yet manageable way to deal with the richness of what is presented. And what Clark provides is indeed rich, and complex–just like our work with docents.