Lecturing Lesson #4: The Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that happens when an individual has extensive knowledge of a subject area. When they communicate or interact with other people with less knowledge than themselves, they may unknowingly assume that others have the same background as they do.

It’s really easy to fall into this trap, particularly when you’ve been lecturing a subject for a little while. You may use jargon, assumptions or rationale that your students may not have heard of before. And in doing so, they may not be able to follow what you’re teaching them.

An example of this was when I was teaching management accounting a few years back. My class mostly consisted of property studies students. I was trying to teach a topic called relevant costing, and they really seemed to be struggling with certain aspects of it.

It was only after a two sessions that I realised they hadn’t learnt about the concept of depreciation, as this was not taught in their degree, and this hindered their ability to do relevant costing. Once we sorted this out, it became smooth sailing.

It’s difficult to prevent the curse of knowledge bias. But by setting up an environment in which students are comfortable to ask questions, they’ll be able to speak up if you do fall into it.

And, most importantly, if they do speak up, be patient in explaining the concept. It may seem simple to you, but it might not be for them. The curse of knowledge is a common bias in academia, we need to be cognisant of it when we teach.


Picture is of the plane I flew in to and from Pretoria. The seats are configured with 1 on one side of the aisle and 2 on the other, meaning that on the way back I got a seat that was both aisle and window at the same time. Winning

Song of the day: Illenium - Fractures
Thesis update: consulting in Pretoria :)
Blog 86/365.Read more about my #365of25 journey here

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