“Yet We All Act Like It’s the Same!”

Writer Joy Beth Smith tweeted about the demands of publishing her first book. As if publishing wasn’t challenging enough, she also must promote her book — a job requiring skills very different from writing. What should she charge for speaking engagements? How can she compress 60,000 finely-tuned words into a half hour speech?

Education as a field might suffer a similar confusion. Experts are expected to be teachers (and vice versa). If we confuse these two equally important skills, we dramatically devalue what makes them particularly helpful.

Teachers versus experts

Put simply: Experts advance a discipline; teachers advance learners.

An expert focuses on mastering a discipline in order to advance it. By contrast, a teacher transfers disciplines to others. Teachers operate within their specific community of learners to help those learners attain mastery. Hopefully, their learners become experts.

Why do we confuse these roles? What's lost in the process?


Not too long ago, lecture circuits were like Netflix. Vast information bound up in books didn’t move easily. Unless you were wealthy enough to be literate or lucky enough to live near a library, you had little means to learn. Unless an expert came to town. On this rare occasion, you’d gather in a big hall and binge on lectures for hours.

If you were really lucky, you might be able to afford university — experts talking for hours and days on end. Then, you became the expert! You could lecture, too!

Repeat this process for hundreds of years. Congrats, you created our education system.

Eventually, digital circuits got pretty great at transferring information, too. This sadly hasn’t yet changed much about how we teach. Learners still sit through long lectures to get information or wade through millions of pages of Google search results that never seem to stick.

Somehow, we still require teachers to play experts, conveying the minutia of their fields in a few interminable minutes (regardless of the strain this puts on learners and teachers alike).


Complementary, not competition

Earlier, I said teacher and expert are different roles. If we emphasize their superpowers, they start to work together.

Experts . . .

  • Master the lexicon of their discipline
  • Understand its essential questions
  • Find answers to those questions
  • Export their answers for other experts and teachers

Teachers . . .

  • Understand the lexicon and essential questions of their discipline
  • Engage their specific community of learners
  • Adapt essential resources for their communities
  • Invite learners along a path to new levels in their discipline

What strikes me is that these roles don’t compete — they complement. Scramble them together and you have long, dull lectures. But treat them as white and yolk in the same egg, and I think we’ll forge an alliance that finds answers and explains them for communities who need them.

The rare few will master both roles. But we might more often need to say, “Those are totally different skill sets!” If we create easy channels for experts to share their expertise and effective tools for teachers to bring that expertise to their communities, we’ll be in better shape. Teachers, experts, and learners alike will certainly be happier.

At Pathwright, we aim to equip both experts and teachers. That’s why we’ve made tools for both. Experts can now offer their curriculum for teachers in communities around the world. Teachers get power-packed courses complete with teaching tools that make helping their learners even easier. Here’s a short article from our guidance team on offering your course to multiple Groups. If you’d like to find out more about Pathwright, check out Intro to Pathwright.

You might also be interested in: