Cognitive and learning scientist are finding evidence that brains process the information that is stored in memories. The processing allows the learner to find connections and organize the memories. As a result, what one “knows” is not a collection of discrete facts, but it is integrated and one’s knowledge can be used to create new knowledge not explicitly learned previously.
Over time, learners develop expertise which allows them to solve familiar problems more quickly than those with less expertise. Those with greater expertise are also able to use tools and supports to facilitate their own learning (for example by using calculators to graph complex functions), and they perceive more in the environment than those with less expertise. Further, those with greater expertise tend to learn within the domain with greater efficiency. One with greater expertise in biology, for example, will remember more about a demonstration of a new idea that someone with less expertise.
Biases sometimes confounds expertise. When this happens, cultural beliefs may exert such effects that one will deny his or her own expertise. The example they provide is in the well-known public debate surrounding climate change. Individuals who are well-educated and able to accurately interpret data and respond to the conclusions in other fields are unable or unwilling to apply those habits and skills to climate change data because of biases introduced by their culture.
As learners develop expertise, they also tend to be more capable of applying what they have learned to new situations. Readers with greater expertise can read more and more complex information, understand it, and integrate the ideas into their existing knowledge. In a similar way, skilled engineers can apply principles to build different types of structures and solve problems that have not been encountered previously.
One’s ability to reason is affected by a number of factors. Formal reasoning is affected by accumulated knowledge, so those with greater experience may make decisions equal to those with lesser experience, but the younger individual relies on sound reasoning, but the older individual relies on accumulated knowledge.