KALYUGA, AYRES, CHANDLER, SWELLERTHE EXPERTISE REVERSAL EFFECT
The Expertise Reversal Effect
Educational Testing Centre
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Paul Ayres, Paul Chandler, and John Sweller
School of Education
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
ing memory. Learning reduces working memory limitations by enabling the use of schemas,
storedinlong-termmemory,to processinformationmore efficiently.Severalinstructional tech-
niques have been designed to facilitate schema construction and automation by reducing work-
ing memory load. Recently, however, strong evidence has emerged that the effectiveness of
thesetechniques depends very much on levels of learner expertise. Instructional techniques that
arehighly effective withinexperienced learners canlose their effectivenessandeven have nega-
tiveconsequences when used with more experienced learners. We call this phenomenon the ex-
pertise reversal effect. In this article, we review the empirical literature on the interaction be-
tween instructional techniques and levels of learner experience that led to the identification of
the expertise reversal effect.
It is doubtful if anyone would question the need for instruc-
tional designers to consider specific characteristics of learn-
ers, especially the level of their knowledge or experience in a
particular domain. Nevertheless, although the concept of ap-
titude–treatmentinteractions has been developed toadaptdif-
ferent instructional treatments to students’ particular charac-
teristics, such as knowledge, skills, and learning styles (e.g.,
Mayer, Stiehl, & Greeno, 1975; Shute & Gluck, 1996; Snow
& Lohman, 1984), many instructional design recommenda-
tions proceed without an explicit reference to learner knowl-
edge levels. In this article, we survey evidence that a large
number of cognitive load theory (CLT) effects that can be
usedto recommend instructional designs are,in fact, only ap-
plicable to learners with very limited experience. With addi-
tional experience, specific experimental effects can first dis-
appear and then reverse. As a consequence, the instructional
design recommendations that flow from the experimental ef-
fects also reverse; for example, if Design A is superior to De-
sign B using novices, with increased expertise, Design B can
become superior. We call the reversal of cognitive load ef-
fectswith expertise the expertise reversal effect.Like all cog-
nitive load effects, it originates from some of the structures
that constitute human cognitive architecture. We begin by
discussing that architecture.
SOME ASPECTS OF HUMAN
COGNITIVE ARCHITECTURE RELEVANT
TO INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN
Working memory limitations profoundly influence the char-
acter of human information processing and, to a considerable
extent, shape human cognitive architecture (Sweller, in
press). Short-term storage and processing limitations of hu-
man memory have been well-known for some time (e.g.,
Baddeley, 1986; Miller, 1956). Only a few elements (or
chunks) of information can be processed at any time without
overloadingcapacity and decreasing the effectiveness ofpro-
cessing. Conversely, long-term memory contains huge
amountsof domain-specific knowledge structures that canbe
described as hierarchically organized schemas that allow us
tocategorize different problem states anddecide the most ap-
propriate solution moves.
Controlled use of schemas requires conscious effort and,
therefore,workingmemory resources. However, after having
beingsufficiently practiced, schemas can operateunder auto-
matic rather than controlled processing (Kotovsky, Hayes, &
Simon, 1985; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977; Shiffrin & Schnei-
der, 1977). Automatic processing of schemas requires mini-
mal working memory resources and allows problem solving
to proceed with minimal effort.
EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 38(1), 23–31
Copyright © 2003, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Slava Kalyuga, Educational
Testing Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2052, Aus-
tralia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
CLT (see Sweller, 1999, and Sweller, van Merriënboer, &
Paas, 1998, for recent reviews) is based on the assumption
that schema construction and automation are the major goals
of instruction, but those goals can be thwarted by the limited
capacityofworking memory. Because of the limited capacity
workingmemory,theproper allocation of available cognitive
resources is essential to learning. If a learner has to expend
limited resources on activities not directly related to schema
construction and automation, learning may be inhibited.
Alearner’slevelof expertiseis acriticalfactor indetermin-
ingwhatinformationis relevantforthe learnerandwhat infor-
mation is attended to (e.g., Chi & Glaser, 1985). A
schema-basedapproach has been successfully usedtoexplain
differences between expert and novice learners (Chi,
Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Reimann & Chi, 1989). Experts
cific schemas. Hierarchically organized schemas represent
experts’knowledgeinthedomainandallow expertsto catego-
rize multiple elements of related information as a single,
higherlevel element.Whenconfrontedwith aspecificconfig-
a familiar schema and treat (and act on) the whole configura-
tion as a single unit. When brought into working memory, a
memorycapacity for processing thanthe many low-level ele-
ments it incorporates, thus reducing the burden on working
memory. As a consequence, acquired schemas, held in
long-term memory, allow experts to avoid processing over-
whelming amounts of information and effectively reduce the
burden on limited capacity working memory. In addition, as
already mentioned, experts are able to bypass working mem-
ory capacity limitations by having many of their schemas
briefdiscussionthat increasingone’s levelof expertisein ado-
main is a major means of reducing working memory load.
HOW EXPERTISE CAN ALTER
The level of learner experience in a domain primarily influ-
ences the extent to which schemas can be brought into
working memory to organize current information. Novices
lack sophisticated schemas associated with a task or situa-
tion at hand. For these inexperienced learners, no guidance
for handling a given situation or task is provided by rele-
vant schemas in long-term memory. Instructional guidance
can act as a substitute for missing schemas and, if effective,
act as a means of constructing schemas. Effective instruc-
tion directly provides instructional guidance while minimiz-
ing working memory load (Sweller, 1999; Sweller et al.,
1998). If the instructional presentation fails to provide nec-
essary guidance, learners will have to resort to prob-
lem-solving search strategies that are cognitively inefficient
because they impose a heavy working memory load.
cess of constructing mental representations of a situation or
task.They maynotneed any additionalinstructionalguidance
becausetheirschemas provide full guidance. If, nevertheless,
instructionprovides information designed to assist learners in
constructing appropriate mental representations, and experts
areunableto avoid attending to this information, there will be
an overlap between the schema-based and the redundant in-
struction-based components of guidance. Both types of guid-
ance will be available for dealing with the same units of
information.Inthiscase, manylearnersare likelytoattemptto
tegration of related redundant components will require addi-
tionalworking memoryresourcesand mightcausea cognitive
overload.This additionalcognitive load maybe imposedeven
if a learner recognizes the instructional materials to be redun-
dantand so decides to ignore thatinformationasbest he or she
can. Redundant information is frequently difficult to ignore.
failure of an instructional procedure. The involvement of dif-
ferent (schema-based and instruction-based) cognitive con-
structs for dealing with the same units of information may
consume sufficient resources to cause cognitive overload
compared with instruction that relies more heavily on preex-
isting schemas for guidance. For more experienced learners,
rather than risking conflict between schemas and instruc-
tion-based guidance, it may be preferable to eliminate the in-
struction-based guidance. As a consequence, instructional
guidance,which maybeessential for novices,mayhave nega-
tiveconsequences formoreexperienced learners.When an in-
structional design that includes guidance is beneficial for
novices(resulting in better performance when compared with
performance of novices who receive a format wherein such
guidance is omitted) but disadvantageous for more expert
learners (resulting in poorer performance when compared
with performance of experts who receive a format wherein
suchguidanceis omitted),wehaveanexampleofthe expertise
reversaleffect. In thefollowingsections, we reviewaseriesof
empirical studies that were designed to test conditions when
expertise reversal might be observed.
LEVELS OF EXPERTISE AND THE
When dealing with two or more related sources of informa-
tion(e.g., text and diagrams), itis often necessary to integrate
mentallycorresponding representations (verbal and pictorial)
to construct a relevant schema and achieve understanding.
When different sources of information are separated in space
(e.g.,text located separately from diagrams) or time (e.g., text
presented after or before the diagrams are displayed), this
process of information integration may place an unnecessary
strain on limited working memory resources. Intensive
24 KALYUGA, AYRES, CHANDLER, SWELLER
search-and-match processes may be involved in cross-refer-
encing the representations. These search-and-match pro-
cesses may severely interfere with constructing integrated
schemas, thus increasing the burden on working memory and
Physically integrated presentation formats have been sug-
gested as an alternative to split-source instructions (Chandler
& Sweller, 1991, 1992, 1996; Mayer & Anderson, 1991,
1992; Mayer & Gallini, 1990; Sweller, Chandler, Tierney, &
Cooper, 1990; Tarmizi & Sweller, 1988; Ward & Sweller,
1990). With an integrated format, sections of text are directly
embeddedonto the diagram in close proximity to correspond-
ingcomponents of the diagram and presentedsimultaneously
with the diagram. Integration of related elements of diagrams
and text reduces the visual search, thus decreasing the burden
onworking memory. Superiority of physically integrated ma-
terialsthat do not require split attention overunintegratedma-
terials that do require split attention and mental integration
before they can be understood provides an example of the
Physicalintegrationof two or more sources of information
to reduce split attention and cognitive load is important if the
sources of information are essential in the sense that they are
not intelligible in isolation for a particular learner. Alterna-
tively, if the sources are intelligible in isolation with one
source unnecessary, elimination rather than physical integra-
tion of the redundant source is preferable. Superiority of ma-
terials with a redundant source of information eliminated
over materials containing both sources of information pro-
vides an example of the redundancy effect. For example,
Chandler and Sweller (1991) found that a diagram alone was
superior to a diagram plus text that recapitulated the informa-
tion in the diagram. Craig, Gholson, and Driscoll (2002),
Kalyuga, Chandler, and Sweller (2000), and Mayer, Heiser,
and Lonn (2001) found that identical visual and auditory text
was less effective than the auditory text alone.
Whether two sources of information are unintelligible in
isolation and so require integration or whether one source is
redundant and so should be eliminated does not depend just
on the nature of the information, it also depends on the exper-
tiseofthe learner. A source of information that is essentialfor
a novice may be redundant for someone with more do-
main-specific knowledge. As a consequence, external inte-
gration of several sources of information as a means of
decreasing working memory load associated with mental in-
tegration may be important for novices but may not be effec-
tive with more expert learners. Some information in an
instructional presentation may be redundant for more experi-
enced learners. In the physically integrated format, process-
ing this information cannot be avoided and integration of
redundant information with learners’ schemas might impose
an additional cognitive load that may interfere with learning
due to the redundancy effect. Attending to and integrating re-
dundant information with available schemas requires cogni-
tive resources that consequently may not be available for the
construction and refinement of new schemas. Thus,
eliminationrather than integration of redundant sources of in-
formationmight be beneficial for learningin the case of more
Kalyuga,Chandler, and Sweller (1998) foundthat inexpe-
rienced electrical trainees benefitted from textual explana-
tions integrated into the diagrams of electrical circuits (to
reduce split attention). They were not able to comprehend a
diagram-only format. However, more experienced trainees
performed significantly better with the electrical circuit dia-
gram-only format. More experienced trainees also reported
less mental effort associated with studying the diagram-only
format. For these more knowledgeable learners, the textual
information,ratherthan being essential and so best integrated
with the diagram, was redundant and so best eliminated. The
split-attention effect for novices was replaced by the redun-
dancyeffect for experts. An instructional design that included
explanatory material in an integrated format was superior for
novices but inferior for more knowledgeable learners, thus
demonstrating an expertise reversal effect.
Using textual materials, Yeung, Jin, and Sweller (1998)
also obtained this effect. Integrating explanatory notes into
the primary text assisted learners with low levels of language
competence. The same format retarded learning for more
knowledgeable learners because the integrated notes, al-
though redundant, were difficult to ignore when integrated
into the primary text.
TEXT PROCESSING AND THE
EXPERTISE REVERSAL EFFECT
McNamara, Kintsch, Songer, and Kintsch’s (1996) research
isalso related to theexpertisereversaleffect. McNamara et al.
(1996) found that additions to an original instructional text in
high school biology intended to increase text coherence were
beneficial only for low-knowledge readers. High-knowledge
readers benefitted most from using the original, minimally
coherent format text rather than the enhanced text.
McNamara et al.’s (1996) findings are similar to those of
Kalyuga et al. (1998) and Yeung et al. (1998) already de-
scribed. Less knowledgeable learners benefitted from addi-
tionalexplanatory material, but more knowledgeable learners
were better able to process the material without the additions.
Althoughthe results of the setsof studies are very similar,the
interpretations are quite different. Kalyuga et al. (1998) and
Yeung et al. (1998) proposed that, for experienced learners,
eliminatingredundant material is advantageous because itre-
duces the cognitive load associated with processing redun-
dant information in working memory. McNamara et al.
(1996) argued that high-knowledge students benefitted from
the minimally coherent text because it forced them to engage
actively in additional processing of the text.
Theuse of subjective mental ratings can be used to provide
informationrelevant to these conflicting interpretations. If, as
THE EXPERTISE REVERSAL EFFECT 25
McNamara et al. argued, high-knowledge students benefit
when information is omitted because of the additional active
processing required, then such additional processing should
increase cognitive load. Yet Kalyuga et al. (1998) and Yeung
et al. (1998) found that experienced learners studying a mini-
malformat reported lower estimates of mental load compared
to formats with redundant information. According to this ex-
planation, text coherence depends on a learner’s expertise.
Text that is minimally coherent for novices may well be fully
coherent for experts. Providing additional text is redundant
forexpertsand will have negative rather than positive effects,
thus demonstrating the expertise reversal effect. . Conse-
quently, McNamara et al.’s (1996) results may be due to the
expertise reversal effect rather than due to experts’ being
forced to engage actively in the processing of text with re-
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN LEVELS OF
EXPERTISE AND THE MODALITY AND
Using a combination of both auditory and visual sources of
information is an alternative way of dealing with split atten-
tion.According to dual-processing models of memory and in-
formation processing (Baddeley, 1986; Paivio, 1990;
Penney, 1989; Schneider & Detweiler, 1987), the capacity to
process information is distributed over several partly inde-
pendent subsystems. As a consequence, effective working
memory capacity can be increased by presenting some infor-
mation in an auditory and some in a visual modality. For ex-
ample, the negative consequences of split attention may be
ameliorated by associating a visual diagram with spoken
ratherthan written text. Integration of theaudioand visual in-
formation may not overload working memory if its capacity
is effectively expanded by using a dual-mode presentation.
Many studies (Mayer, 1997; Mayer & Moreno, 1998;
Mousavi, Low, & Sweller, 1995; Tindall-Ford, Chandler, &
Sweller, 1997) have demonstrated that learners can integrate
words and diagrams more easily when the words are pre-
sented in auditory form rather than visually, providing an ex-
physical integration in visual-only presentations, dual-mode
presentations are effective if an extensive visual search, es-
sential to coordinate auditory and visual information, is elim-
inated. For example, to reduce visual search, Jeung, Chan-
dler, and Sweller (1997) used visual flashing indicators as
pointers to the part of a diagram to which the auditory infor-
However, auditory explanations may also become redun-
dant when presented to more experienced learners. Kalyuga
et al. (2000) demonstrated that if experienced learners attend
to the auditory explanations, learning might be inhibited. In a
setof experiments with instructions on usingindustrialmanu-
facturing machinery, inexperienced learners in a domain
clearly benefitted most from studying a visually presented
diagram combined with simultaneously presented auditory
explanations.After additional training, the relative advantage
of the audio text disappeared whereas the effectiveness of the
diagram-only condition increased. Specifically, when the
same students became even more experienced after further
intensive training in the domain, a substantial advantage of a
diagram-onlycondition over a diagram with audio text condi-
tion was obtained, reversing the results of the first experi-
ment. Subjective mental load ratings collected immediately
aftereach stage of the experimental trainingclearlysupported
acognitive load interpretation of the results. Thus, thelevelof
learner experience effectively related the modality effect to
the redundancy effect in a similar way to the relations be-
tween split attention and redundancy in the Kalyuga et al.
(1998) and Yeung et al. (1998) studies, again demonstrating
an expertise reversal effect.
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN LEVELS OF
EXPERTISE AND THE WORKED
Worked examples consisting of a problem statement fol-
lowed by explanations of all solution details represent a case
of fully guided instruction. Exploratory learning environ-
ments, discovery learning, or problem solving, however, rep-
resent a form of less or even relatively unguided instruction.
A considerable number of studies have demonstrated that
properlydesigned worked examples are often abetterinstruc-
tional alternative than conventional problem-solving tech-
niques (Carrol, 1994; Cooper & Sweller, 1987; Paas, 1992;
Paas & van Merriënboer, 1994; Quilici & Mayer, 1996;
Sweller & Cooper, 1985; Trafton & Reiser, 1993). Similarly,
Rieber and Parmley (1995) demonstrated that when adults
learned laws of mechanics from unstructured simulations
(designed as free exploration), the results were significantly
worse than those for an example-based, tutorial condition.
When solving unfamiliar problems, learners normally
use a means–ends search strategy directed toward reducing
differences between current and goal problem states by us-
ing suitable operators. These activities are unrelated to
schema construction and automation and are cognitively
costly because they impose a heavy working memory load
(Sweller, 1988). Providing worked examples instead of
problems eliminates the means–ends search and directs a
learner’s attention toward a problem state and its associated
moves. Of course, worked examples should be appropri-
ately structured to eliminate an unnecessary cognitive load
due to, for example, split-attention effects (as discussed ear-
lier). Otherwise, worked examples can be as demanding of
cognitive resources as solving problems by a means–ends
analysis (e.g., Sweller et al., 1990).
As learners’ experience in a domain increases, solving a
problemmay not require a means–ends searchand its associ-
26 KALYUGA, AYRES, CHANDLER, SWELLER
atedworking memory load duetopartially,or even fully, con-
structed schemas. When a problem can be solved relatively
effortlessly,analyzing a redundant worked exampleand inte-
gratingitwithpreviously acquired schemas in working mem-
ory may impose a greater cognitive load than problem
solving.Under these circumstances, practice inproblemsolv-
ing may result in more effective learning than studying
worked examples because solving problems may adequately
facilitate further schema construction and automation. Al-
though appropriately structured worked examples might be
beneficial for learners who are inexperienced in a domain,
similarly structured worked examples might become redun-
dant once learners achieve sufficient levels of experience.
Kalyuga, Chandler, Tuovinen, and Sweller’s (2001) ex-
periments confirmed these suggestions. Inexperienced me-
chanical trade apprentices were presented with either a series
of worked examples to study or problems to solve. On subse-
quent tests, inexperienced trainees benefitted most from the
worked examples condition. Trainees who studied worked
examples performed better with lower ratings of mental load
thansimilartrainees who solved problems, duplicating a con-
ventional worked example effect. With more experience in
the domain, the superiority of worked examples disappeared.
Eventually, with sufficient experience, additional learning
was facilitated more by problem solving than through study-
ing worked examples. The worked examples became redun-
dant and problem solving proved superior, demonstrating
another expertise reversal effect.
Tuovinen and Sweller (1999) provided additional data
supporting the hypothesis. They compared exploration and
worked examples instructional approaches to learning to use
a database program. Students with no previous familiarity
with databases benefitted more from worked examples. For
students who had previous familiarity with the domain, there
wereno differences between thetwoinstructionalstrategies.
Lastly, Kalyuga, Chandler, and Sweller (2001) com-
pared a series of worked examples with an explor-
atory-based learning environment that allowed participants
to explore the same material on their own. Two levels of
task difficulty were used: (a) simple tasks with a very lim-
ited problem space, resulting in a small number of possible
options to explore; and (b) complex tasks with a relatively
larger problem space, giving numerous options to explore.
There were only minimal differences between the two in-
structional procedures on simple tasks. For complex tasks,
inexperienced trainees clearly benefitted most from the
worked examples procedure. The group presented with
worked examples performed significantly better with lower
ratings of mental load than similar trainees who studied the
exploratory procedure. When participants became more ex-
perienced in the domain after specifically designed training
sessions, the advantage of the worked examples condition
disappeared. Thus, as the level of experience was raised, the
exploratory group improved more rapidly than the worked
examples group, exhibiting an expertise reversal pattern.
In all of the experiments described here, inexperienced
learners benefitted most from an instructional procedure that
placed a heavy emphasis on guidance. Any additional in-
structional guidance (e.g., indicating a goal or subgoals asso-
ciated with a task, suggesting a strategy to use, providing
solution examples, etc.) should reduce cognitive load for in-
experienced learners, especially in the case of structurally
complex instructional materials. At the same time, additional
instructional guidance might be redundant for more experi-
enced learners and require additional working memory re-
sources to integrate the instructional guidance with learners’
availableschemas that provide essentially the same guidance.
A minimal guidance format might be more beneficial for
theselearners because they are able to use their schema-based
knowledgeas guidance in constructing integrated mental rep-
resentations without overloading working memory.
There is substantial additional evidence indicating that in-
structional designs should take into account levels of learner
expertise. In a series of studies, Renkl (1997) and Renkl,
Atkinson, and Maier (2000) consistently demonstrated that
detailed worked examples were most appropriate when pre-
sentedtonovices, but they should be gradually faded out with
increased levels of learner knowledge and be replaced by
problems (also see Renkl & Atkinson, 2003). Furthermore,
Renkl,Atkinson, Maier, and Staley (2002)foundthata fading
out procedure was superior to an abrupt switch from worked
examples to problems. The advantage of reducing guidance
withincreases in expertise is an example oftheguidance-fad-
ing effect. This effect provides a direct instructional applica-
tion that is in accord with the expertise reversal effect.
Having analyzed extensive previous work on multimedia
learning (e.g., Mayer, 1999; Mayer & Gallini, 1990; Mayer,
Steinhoff, Bower, & Mars, 1995), Mayer (2001) found a sta-
ble pattern of results indicating that inexperienced learners
benefittedfar more from instructional presentations designed
to provide a better support for cognitive processes than
high-knowledge learners. Mayer called this principle the “in-
dividual differences principle” (p. 161). High-knowledge
learners’ use of available prior knowledge to compensate for
a lack of instructional guidance was suggested as the main
accord with the expertise reversal effect when the effect is
generated by the use of worked examples with more experi-
encedlearners. Inexperienced learners require the support for
cognitive processes provided by worked examples. More ex-
perienced learners find that additional support redundant;
thus, processing worked examples interferes with rather than
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN LEVELS OF
EXPERTISE AND THE ISOLATED OR
INTERACTING ELEMENTS EFFECT
Some material imposes an intrinsically high cognitive load
becausetheelementsthat must be learned interact and so can-
THE EXPERTISE REVERSAL EFFECT 27
not be processed in isolation without compromising under-
standing (Sweller, 1994; Sweller & Chandler, 1994). To un-
derstand such structurally complex instructional materials,
learners must process many interacting elements of informa-
tion simultaneously in working memory where understand-
ingis defined as theabilitytoprocess all necessary interacting
elements in working memory simultaneously. The degree of
element interactivity for a given instructional presentation
can be assessed as the number of elements that must be at-
tended to in order to understand the instruction. For low-ele-
ment interactivity material (e.g., learning the translation of
single words in a second language), each element can be
learned individually and does not impose a heavy cognitive
load. For high-element interactivity material (e.g., learning
allowable word orders in English), individual elements inter-
act and so must be learned simultaneously rather than as indi-
vidual elements. A heavy working memory load can result.
However, an assessment of element interactivity is always
relative to the level of expertise of an intended learner. If the
learner holds an appropriate set of previously acquired do-
main-specific schemas, the whole set of interacting ele-
ments may be incorporated into a schema and regarded as a
single element (e.g., common language syntactic structures
for native speakers). Conversely, a novice learner may need
toattend to each oftheelementsand learn all interactions be-
a foreign language for beginners). If element interactivity is
sufficiently high for the learner, this mental activity will
overload the limited capacity of working memory and cause
a learning failure.
Once the individual has learned all the interactions be-
tween the elements, the learner will have acquired a new
schema. This schema can now act as a single element every
time the learner encounters similar tasks or situations. At this
level of learner expertise, element interactivity is reduced to
the minimum. Consequently, more experienced learners will
beable to use theirschemas to group together atleast some of
the elements of incoming information. Because some of the
interactingelementsare incorporated in schemas, more expe-
riencedlearners can process theseelements in working mem-
oryas a single element, thuskeepingcognitiveloadwithin the
confines of working memory. For these more experienced
learners, understanding is less likely to be a problem.
How can novices acquire the schemas necessary to allow
the processing of very high-element interactivity material if
theycannot process all of the elements in working memorysi-
multaneouslyandifthose interacting elements cannot be pro-
cessed in isolation because they interact? Pollock, Chandler,
and Sweller (2002) suggested an isolated elements instruc-
tional technique that allows novices to circumvent working
memory limitations by initially presenting complex material
as a collection of individual, isolated elements of informa-
tion.If element interactivity is artificially reduced inthisway,
some partial rudimentary schemas for the presented informa-
tion may be developed first, allowing novice learners to re-
duce working memory load during a subsequent attempt to
learn from the original, high-element interactivity material.
Note that the isolated elements format is not aimed at provid-
ing understanding at the initial stage of instruction because
critical relations are artificially eliminated. Because under-
standing very high-element interactivity material is impossi-
ble for novices until they have acquired schemas that
incorporate the interacting elements, the presentation of the
material in a form that does not permit understanding is as-
sumed not to have negative consequences. This initial learn-
ing without understanding is assumed to be compensated for
by a better level of understanding at the second phase of in-
In Pollock et al.’s (2002) experiments, a mixed instruc-
tional method (isolated elements followed by interacting ele-
ments instruction) was superior to the conventional method
(interacting elements instruction during both stages) for nov-
icelearners. These learners alsoreportedlowersubjective rat-
ings of mental load associated while studying mixed
instructional formats. However, the difference between the
two methods disappeared when they were used with learners
who had experience in the relevant knowledge domains. The
mixed method of instruction did not provide any benefits to
learners who already possessed rudimentary schemas and
thus did not experience an excessively heavy cognitive load
when processing the original interacting elements instruc-
tion. The experienced learners’ subjective mental effort rat-
ings of the instructional conditions did not differ, providing
further credence to this explanation.
Although a full reversal was not observed in these studies,
elimination of the effect was obtained with increases in ex-
pertise. Mixed method instructions benefitted only less expe-
rienced learners, providing partial evidence for the expertise
Inaccordwith these findings, Mayer and Chandler (2001),
usingscientific instructional material, found that initially per-
mittinginexperienced learners to control artificiallythespeed
ofan animation and thus allowingthe assimilation of isolated
elements within specific animation frames benefitted learn-
ers far more than initially presenting learners with a high-ele-
ment interactivity animation, which they could not control.
When both groups of learners were faced with a second pre-
sentation of the high-element interactivity animation and had
no control over the speed of the animation, the learners that
were allowed to exercise control of the animation initially
during the first presentation demonstrated superior learning
and transfer of knowledge.
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN LEVELS OF
EXPERTISE AND THE IMAGINATION
The imagination effect (Cooper, Tindall-Ford, Chandler, &
Sweller, 2001) occurs when learners asked to imagine the
28 KALYUGA, AYRES, CHANDLER, SWELLER
content of instruction learn more than learners simply asked
to study the material. In Cooper et al.’s (2001) experiments,
two alternative instructional strategies were compared with
students learning to use a spreadsheet: (a) studying worked
examples or (b) imagining procedures and relations de-
scribed in instruction. More knowledgeable students who
held appropriate prerequisite schemas found imagining pro-
cedures and relations more beneficial for learning compared
with studying worked examples, whereas less knowledge-
able students found imagining procedures and relations had
a negative effect compared with studying worked examples.
In other words, the effect reversed depending on the exper-
tise of the learners, providing a clear example of the exper-
tise reversal effect.
Theprocess of mental imagining is closely associated with
constructing and running mental representations in working
memory. Because inexperienced learners have no appropri-
ate schemas to support this process, attempts to engage in
imagining are likely to fail. The absence of schemas means
that all the relevant elements must be processed as individual
elements, and working memory limitations may render that
task impossible. If the task is impossible, those who attempt
to follow imagination instructions are likely to learn little.
However, although experienced learners might lose from at-
tending to redundant instructional guidance provided by
studying worked examples, they may well benefit from prac-
tice at imagining the task procedure. Their schemas incorpo-
ratethe interacting elements that less knowledgeablelearners
must handle individually. As a consequence, more experi-
enced learners should be able to follow imagination instruc-
tions without working memory overload. Imagining a
procedure or a set of relations may increase the degree of au-
tomation of corresponding schemas, thus improving perfor-
mance. When asked to study worked examples rather than
imagine procedures, novices can construct schemas of inter-
acting elements, an essential first step in learning. More ex-
pert learners already have such schemas; thus, asking them to
study the material is likely to constitute a redundant activity.
Imagination instructions benefit more experienced learners
compared with study instructions, but study instructions are
superior for novices, providing an example of the expertise
This article was designed to review empirical studies demon-
strating the existence of an expertise reversal effect and to
show that it has a plausible theoretical explanation within a
cognitive load framework. We have suggested that under
some conditions, when fully guided instructional material is
presented to more experienced learners, a part or all of the
provided instructional guidance might be redundant. In con-
trast,that same material may be essentialfor less experienced
learners. Unless experienced learners can avoid processing
redundant units of information, they must integrate and
cross-reference this redundant information with their avail-
ableknowledge schemas. This activity can place an excessive
and unnecessary load on limited working memory resources.
An instructional format without redundant guidance is likely
tobe the best instructional format for moreexperiencedlearn-
ers because all the necessary support for the construction of
mental representations in working memory is provided by
schema-based knowledge structures held in long-term mem-
ory.However,if that guidance is essential for novices, the ex-
pertise reversal effect will be obtained. A similar effect also
will be obtained if novices must attempt to process very com-
plex, high-element interactivity material or attempt to imag-
cases,alternative instructional strategies are superior, but that
superioritydisappears or reverses if more expert learners who
can process all of the required elements are presented the in-
studies using a large range of instructional materials and par-
ticipants. It interacts with many of the cognitive load effects
demonstrated over the last 20 years. The most important in-
structional implication of this effect is that, to be efficient, in-
structionaldesign should be tailored to the levelofexperience
ofintended learners. Without such tailoring, the effectiveness
ofinstructional designs is likely to be random.Indeed,recom-
mendations to use particular designs can be potentially quite
counterproductive.In conclusion, we believe theexpertisere-
versaleffectis animportant phenomenonthat hasthe potential
to provide valuable instructional design guidance and, even
ture that otherwise would remain hidden.
The research reported in this article was supported by Grants
A00102995, C7980448, and F00103016 from the Australian
Research Council to John Sweller, Paul Chandler, and Slava
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