What is Expertise Worth?

I’ve been exploring the changing nature of expertise for a while and my thinking continues to evolve.

I recently had two experiences with this that still has me working to better understand my relationship both with my expertise and how I value experts.

I went to see my lawyer to discuss a legal matter. I had done some research ahead of time and thought I knew what the right path was but wanted confirmation and perhaps some insight I hadn’t considered. In the end, I spent $150 for an hour of his time to be more or less reassured that my instincts and research were correct. He helped with clarifying some of the language and specifics but I more or less left with the same information and a little more confidence.

Today I saw a physio-therapist to look at my foot. I had been suffering with what I believed was plantar fasciitis for several months. It was at its height of pain about 6 weeks ago and after doing my research and implementing many of the treatments it was slowly getting better. I had a general physical yesterday and I mentioned my heel pain and he suggested an x-ray might be helpful. The x-ray revealed a heel spur that he felt was my issue. He recommended seeing a physio-therapist to have an ultrasound which would, in essence, break up the spur and reduce the pain. I explained to the therapist all the things I was doing and that my pain was beginning to subside. She told me to continue doing what I was doing and added an exercise that she said would be good to add. I left $90 poorer but confirmed I was doing the right things.

Both of these experiences might be seen as wasteful or unnecessary. In both cases, I didn’t receive a great deal of new information but for the most part confirmation. I’m sure many other people don’t do much research and head straight for the expert to learn. Perhaps they feel their money is better spent since they are starting with very little knowledge. I had done my homework so what they shared with me was not really new. Yet I still was happy to pay for that affirmation. While I was able to do much of the learning on my own, it’s still is challenging to be 100% assured I had all the information I needed. I’m not a legal expert or an anatomy expert. They both acknowledged my research as valid. These experts encouraged me and let me know I was on the right track.

As an education “consultant” I am fully aware and am explicit in letting folks now that I’m not any smarter than they are. Like my lawyer did, I can offer a broader knowledge of what’s happening beyond their local area and can either share how others are progressing or more often than not, confirm that they work they are doing is valid. Much like a physiotherapist, I am able to see gaps in their work and suggest strategies that can be added to their current work.

In education, we talk a lot about the changing role of schools and teachers as not simply knowledge banks. Their roles are changing. Yet we also know that students come to us with varying degrees of knowledge and interest in building that knowledge on their own. Yet still, we can’t and should not deny our expertise as learners and even our expertise in content. But the world outside of education is always adapting to a new attitude towards expertise. But whether you come in with limited knowledge or a lot of it, experts still matter.