Can intuition be taught?

Kuhn, Gloria gkuhn at MED.WAYNE.EDU
Sun Aug 18 21:41:57 UTC 2013

in the 1980s educators tried to teach students and residents what they should do in a situation using general problem solving rules and found out that this approach will not work.  Learning is contextual in nature and knowing what to do in situation A does not translate into knowing what to do in situation B unless the two are very similar.
Expertise has been shown to take approximately 10 years of full time endeavor   to develop in many fields (music, chess, sports, dance, etc.) and no one to my knowledge has been able to accelerate learning in order to truncate this time requirement.

Michael Eraut has done a great deal of research in the area of workplace learning, tacit knowledge, and intuition.  He believes that intuition is tacit knowledge gathered during experience especially in the workplace setting.  We are not born with intuition, we develop intuition that tells us something is incorrect or what we should do in a situation based on past experiences and knowledge that is so ingrained in us as a result of that experience that it is now almost unconscious but it "pops" into our conscious when we need to make a decision that we "intuit" is related to that tacit knowledge.

We can probably teach metacognition to some extent but I believe that when we make errors we are completely unaware of our making them.  If we were we would not make them.  Whether we use type 1 or type 2 thinking when we make the error we are not conscious of making it; if we were we would not make the error.

The literature on expertise is especially pertinent to this discussion.  There are a number of texts I listed below and there are multiple journal articles.
Gloria Kuhn

Chi, M.T.H., R. Glaser, and M.J. Farr, eds. The Nature of Expertise. 1988, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.
Ericsson, K.A. and J. Smith, Toward a General Theory of Expertise: Prospects and Limits 1991.
Ferrari, M., ed. The Pursuit of Excellence Through Education. 2002, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.
Bereiter, C. and M. Scardamalia, Surpassing Ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. 1993, Chicago, IL: Open Court.
Workplace learning:
Eraut, M., Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work. Br J Educ Psychol, 2000. 70 ( Pt 1): p. 113-36.

From: Lorri Zipperer [Lorri at ZPM1.COM]
Sent: Friday, August 16, 2013 3:06 PM
Subject: [IMPROVEDX] Can intuition be taught?

Forwarded by the moderator

From: Peggy Zuckerman [mailto:peggyzuckerman at]
Sent: Friday, August 16, 2013 12:26 PM
To: Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine; John Brush
Subject: Re: [IMPROVEDX] FM: Crowd Wisdom .... lack of dx error in the curriculum
Intuition is just that.  One can learn to respond to one's intuition, usually by practicing doing just that.  Just asking, "Why does that still worry me?  What am I not getting?" etc.  We as a species learned to avoid being eaten by accepting that intuition, which is probably endless amounts of data being processed in the background.
A great book to give a non-medical perspective this is "The Gift of Fear", which reminds us that our fear responses are often overridden by our socialized responses, leaving us vulnerable to danger.  We all have said something to the effect, "I just knew something was wrong, and didn't respond soon enough." This applies to avoiding the odd situation on the street, as well as in the medical setting.
Peggy Zuckerman
On Fri, Aug 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM, John Brush <jebrush at<mailto:jebrush at>> wrote:
There are others on this listserv, who are much more qualified than me to answer the question: "Can intuition be taught?"
My two cents: I suspect that intuition is a form of intelligence that is innate, but can be shaped, honed, improved, and recalibrated. Intuition is a talent that can be developed through deliberate practice.
I also think that metacognition can be taught. The goal of education in any domain should be to encourage students to be more thoughtful - to actively and critically think about what they are doing. Students need a vocabulary and some background to get them started, though. I think our goal should be to make this educational process more explicit. What are the core competencies of good medical reasoning, and how can we effectively, reliably, and efficiently teach those competencies?

On Aug 16, 2013, at 9:08 AM, Graber, Mark wrote:

Garry's comments raise a very important and fundamental question in our field that someone out there may know the answer to. If not, add it to the growing list of research priorities:

In the traditional paradigm, the expert evolves from years of training and experience, the 'right' education as Garry phrases it.  The expert becomes so because they've made all the errors there are to make, or have seen them.  The opposing view is that we can shortcut this process if we teach principles of metacognition, present all the cognitive biases and their antidotes, and teach error prevention strategies.  Robin Hogarth has a book "Educating Intuition" and Mark Quirk makes many of the same points in his "Intuition and Metacognition in Medical Education."

The question boils down to whether you believe that you really CAN educate intuition, or do you have to acquire it the 'old fashioned' way, through experience.

Mark Graber


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