With grant, FSU seeks to become even more expert at expertise

What makes someone an expert in a particular field? Is it years of experience or just plain know-how? At Florida State University’s Learning Systems Institute, a new grant will help researchers continue to seek answers to those questions.

The institute’s Center for Expert Performance Research has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to enable its team of scholars to develop a greater understanding of expertise in professions where split-second judgments can spell the difference between life and death.

“We’re working to understand the knowledge and thought processes that enable certain people to outperform others in high-stress jobs,” said Laura Hassler Lang, an associate professor in FSU’s College of Education who also directs the Learning Systems Institute. “The Office of Naval Research grant will enable us to build on our foundation of expertise.”

Lang is the principal investigator on the grant, “The Acquisition of Adaptive Skills: An Application of the Expert-Performance Approach to the Development of Training Based on Deliberate Practice and Deep Learning.” Other FSU researchers on the project are K. Anders Ericsson, the Conradi Eminent Scholar in the department of psychology; Paul Ward, assistant professor in the department of psychology; David Eccles, assistant professor in the College of Education; and James Whyte IV, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing.

“This research will focus on the acquisition and maintenance of adaptive skills, which are crucial to modern warfighting,” Lang said. “Modern military personnel must be able to rapidly acquire and modify skilled performance to meet the demands presented by current and future wars.”

Eccles, who heads up the Center for Expert Performance Research and who will manage the funded research, reinforced that viewpoint.

“The military faces uncertainty, novelty and change at every level in the modern warfighting arena: new types of enemy, new types of deployment, uncertain roles, new types of engagement, constantly updating technologies, new types of collaboration—all of which calls for training that enables the warfighter to be an adaptive and self-regulated learner,” he said. “This is where our research on deep learning will make its contribution.”

Co-principal investigator K. Anders Ericsson is widely acclaimed as the pre-eminent scholar of expertise. His research indicates that it is hard work, or what he has dubbed “deliberate practice,” that catapults people to the top of their field—not possession of extraordinary talent. For more on Ericsson’s research, visit this link.

“The challenge in this work—and the exciting aspect of it—is that it cuts across several traditional disciplines,” said Joseph Travis, dean of FSU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “This is the kind of effort that the Learning Systems Institute is especially good at facilitating, and the institute has a long history of pathbreaking interdisciplinary work.”

FSU’s Center for Expert Performance Research was established at FSU in 2004 through congressional funds administered by the Office of Naval Research. The Navy is interested in human-performance research because of its potential to identify the cognitive mechanisms that influence skilled performance among Navy personnel.

Visit this link to read more about the Center for Expert Performance Research and its Human Performance Laboratory.