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How the Curse of Knowledge Impacts You as a Course Creator


Have you ever noticed how hard it is to explain something to someone that you have done over and over again? 

Maybe you have started to teach your child how to ride a bike and you thought about the simplest things: when to apply the break, how to go up a hill, how to ride down hill, etc. 

When it comes to course creation it can be the same way. When you first start creating a course it can be difficult to remember where you once were. 

This happens with anything you have conquered or done over and over again. 

What is a curse of knowledge?

The problem is that once we know something—like the melody of a song—it is hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t re-create their state of mind. 

In 1990, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology named Elizabeth Newton illustrated the curse of knowledge by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tapper” or “listener.” Each tapper was asked to pick a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and tap out the rhythm on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song.

Over the course of the experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only three of the songs correctly: a success rate of 2.5%.

The curse of knowledge can cause you to leave out missing information that might be important for the results of your students. You might be tempted to leave out little pieces that would be helpful to them.

How to cure the curse of knowledge:

  1. Bring your language down to a 4th grade level
  2. Break things down into bite size pieces
  3. Give examples
  4. Share stories
  5. Market research–talk to a lot of people in your ideal audience

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