The Instant Expert Trope
Education Movie Reviews

by Don Berg, Founder
Attitutor Services

The instant expert trope is a great way to solve the writer's problem that learning is mostly boring from the outside, but since it is a fantasy about learning it should not be guiding public policy.

NOTE: YouTube automatically blocked the embed coding for this video because their algorithms detected copyright protected material. Since I used an excerpt from the film for a review this is a classic case of fair use. Until they review my appeal and see that they have no right to restrict this use I have to provide the YouTube link instead of my usual practice of embedding the video:

The Instant Expert Trope on YouTube




The Battle for Terra on IMDb

on Rotten Tomatoes

at Netflix

The Fifth Element on IMDb

on Rotten Tomatoes

at Netflix

The Matrix on IMDb

on Rotten Tomatoes

at Netflix

Instant Expert Trope on


As I mentioned in my review of Waiting For Superman the way we think about learning has important consequences for how we organize schools. So, today I'm focusing on the trope of instant expertise. A trope is a writer's device for conveying an idea or solving a common storyteller's problem.

The instant expert trope is a solution to the dramatic problem that, to outside observers, most of the learning process is really boring. Acquiring expertise takes an estimated 10,000 hours. So what do you do when you have a character in a situation in which they have to solve a difficult problem right now?

Just assuming it's solvable puts you in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. So the first clip is from Battel for Terra. The problem is that a girl child from an alien world needs to communicate with a human space ship pilot who is part of an invasion force taking over the alien girl's world. The Terran girl's name is Nala and after cleverly causing the space ship pursuing her to crash, she saves the human pilot and brings him back home.

Wouldn't it be great if we could learn a language by a few seconds of “simple organic data transfer”? In one way of thinking about it, academic subjects are basically just specialized languages, so if you can download one language you could in principle download almost any academic subject.

But let's move on to The 5th Element. In the first scene the unconscious woman was, just a few hours earlier, resurrected from only the DNA of a few cells that survived the crash of a space ship. Corbin Dallas is the guy who just happened to be going by the government facility that she was escaping from when she jumped off a ledge and crashed through the roof of his taxi cab.

So, Leeloo was not only able to learn a language like Nala, she also got kung fu, too. Now, aliens and supreme beings must be different than humans, so it's plausible that they learn easier. But consider in this next clip that the trope is, in principle, applicable to almost every human being on earth. Welcome to The Matrix:

[Red Feather]Let's be very clear about this idea of learning, this is the FICTION part of science fiction, it's a fantasy, not a reality. The idea that teaching is the delivery of content into the heads of students as portrayed in Waiting For Superman is just another version of jacking into Neo's brain so he can play in the Matrix. They are both fictions, it's fantasyland. Learning is far more than merely downloading information.

Writer's use the instant download learning trope to solve a storytelling problem but, unfortunately for us State and Federal governments use the same fiction to make school policy.

Consider a parallel example. State's also have policies to ensure the safety of buildings and bridges. What kind of policies do you think we would have if they thought that a house is just a stack of wood or a bridge is just a pile of steel? Building involves a lot more than just putting materials together, so, of course, policies based on overly simple ideas about building would be bad policies.

And teaching involves a lot more than the delivery of information. And as long as policy makers are thinking in terms of fantasies about learning then they will continue to fail to meet the needs of children by making bad policies.

Thanks for watching.