Wicked Learning Environments – Part 1

In David Epstein’s book, Range, he mentioned a lot about kind versus wicked learning environments – terms introduced by psychologist Robin Hogarth. I think these are concepts that we should begin to incorporate into our minds when confronting problems and experience, because they help us make important judgments about whether an expert or experienced professional is important to the issue at hand. Quoting from the abstract of their paper:

Inference involves two settings: In the first, information is acquired (learning); in the second, it is applied (predictions or choices). Kind learning environments involve close matches between the informational elements in the two settings and are a necessary condition for accurate inferences. Wicked learning environments involve mismatches.

Maybe that’s a bit too much jargons. But in essence, wicked learning environments are where feedback is inaccurate, lagged, and where outcomes are difficult to directly associate with the driving causes/factors. This means that the ability to form theories about what is optimal, test them out and then use them, is extremely limited.

These are where being ‘expert’ or having ‘expertise’ should not so much be characterised in terms of experience in the field but having the grit and approach to hack at the problem instead. In these environment, most of those with experience will be severely overconfident about their abilities (vis-a-vis the results) and only serve to inject confused thinking.

So before you think about bringing in an ‘experienced guy’ or an ‘expert’ – consider the learning environment and what you’re trying to do.