The Illusion of Explanatory Depth

By Debra L. Beck, MSc  |  October 17, 2022  |  Methods of Learning


And Why CurrentMD Does CME/MOC Better

Have you ever heard a great talk at a conference and then drew a blank when you tried to implement that information in the clinic? Maybe you heard the results of a landmark study using a new drug class, but when you went to actually prescribe that drug to a patient, you realized you didn’t understand things well enough to confidently do so. 

Is your patient really a candidate for this therapeutic? What kind of monitoring is needed?  

If this has happened to you (or something similar), you’ve likely fallen prey to the illusion of explanatory depth. 

Let’s call it IOED for brevity’s sake. 

Put simply, IOED is an observed psychological effect where people tend to believe they understand a topic better than they actually do. 

Put less simply, causal relationships tend to be complex, but when we have a superficial understanding of said relationships, we often overestimate the quality and depth of our understanding. 

You see it in the world all the time. It’s one of the reasons some folks endorse conspiracy theories–in politics or medicine or wherever–because they think they understand something but in reality they only understand a very small part of a much larger picture. 

The term was coined by Yale researchers Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil in 2002. To be clear, Rozenblit and Keil, writing in the journal Cognitive Science, suggest that the effect is observed in only one type of knowledge called explanatory knowledge, which they define as “knowledge that involves complex causal patterns,” and is separate from people’s general overconfidence about their knowledge and skills. 

It’s easy to see how IOED might be at play and could be one of the unconsidered reasons why live scientific meetings for CME/MOC are not effective in optimizing care practices or changing behavior in a meaningful way. 

Behavioral change (and safe transfer of clinical knowledge through to development then application of skill) requires a deeper involvement than simply listening to a podium speaker review data. 

Think, for example, of the development of a physician. Medical school and its years of book learning and memorization is then transferred to years of practice in the field, with supervision, peers, and mentoring. 

But when it comes to continuing education, and learning about new therapies, physicians are expected to listen passively to a talk (which is often little more than a ‘data dump’) and then go out and implement!

It’s why for Knowledge to Practice’s top-of-the-line product, CurrentMD Cardiology, we use micro-learning to make our activities readily accessible, digestible, and personally relevant. And we employ high-yield information architecture (IA), and UI/UX (user interface/user experience) such that navigation is intuitive, and perspective and context are personally powerful. We’ll be writing more about our IA soon.

Illusion of Explanatory Depth

(Image Ref: Coursera. UI = user interface, UX = user experience.)

Our courses are designed from start to finish to facilitate the transfer of meaningful outcomes data to learners so that they can immediately take the information they glean and put it into practice. 

And we know how to do this, perhaps better than all the rest, because we’ve spent years studying adult learning theory, and developing a superlative CME/MOC product. CurrentMD Cardiology is not your garden-variety digitized live course that offers the usual listen-and-forget experience. 

It’s the future of adult education, available now for cardiology education, and it makes IOED a thing of the past. Click here for a free trial of CurrentMD Cardiology.

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