Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Knowledge is Overrated

I think in many ways this will be my most controversial post of recent times as I often find I lose others when I don’t worship knowledge in the same way lots of experts in the learning world do.  I’ve got a stack of reasons for my bold statement; I’m going to add them below and let you argue out whether I’m right or just misguided:

1)  Knowledge is a thing.  It’s not.  Knowledge is not a tangible thing like coins that you can count up and add up in a linear fashion.  It’s not something that you can hold indefinitely or gain interest on like a bank.  Knowledge is relative, it changes, what was right then may not be right now and what is right now may be less so in the future.  You can’t store up every piece of knowledge you ever picked up and suddenly become a wise and wonderful sage.  

2)  Knowledge is static.  It’s not.  It’s a changing beast.  Once we thought the world was flat and that was knowledge, then we knew it was a globe around which everything else rotated, and that was knowledge.  Now we know our place in the universe.  Knowledge.  What will knowledge tomorrow tell us about what we know now?  I don’t know but it will tell us something at least slightly different to we already know.  Knowledge isn’t a stationary and achievable thing, it’s a moving target that you need to move with.

3)  Having knowledge is an end result.  This may be a life is a journey not a destination type argument, but it’s true.  The end result of learning isn’t knowledge (gonna lose some of you here), it’s learning.  Learning is about experiences and changing and evolving what you think.  Knowledge might be your thoughts right now, but if you’re open to evolve you will be open to allowing that to change and reform and change again.  By very definition that’s not our traditional model of knowledge but one of learning.

4)  Knowledge exists in a vacuum.  No.  My favourite expression rears its head again as we need to face up the fact that knowledge if it is changing and shaping and evolving then it needs to be connected to other things.  If you took every possible word in existence today and wrote it in a book (you could call it a dictionary if you wanted!) and then locked it in a safe for 500 years and opened it again would it contain every word in existence?  In fact if you opened it in 10 years or even 5 would it contain every word?  No, it wouldn’t, lol, because language is evolving just like our ‘knowledge’ of the world around us.

5)  Knowledge is higher learning.  No, no, no.  Knowledge based learning has been recognised for some time now in most (admittedly flawed) models as being the lower end of learning.  Testing where you’re asked to recall ‘facts’ is something a parrot could pick up with a bit of training and not the higher end of learning at all.  To move up we need to start looking at applying knowledge and forming new ideas from it and actually challenging some of the ideas of that ‘knowledge’ itself.

6)  To know you is to love you.  Actually I’m not sure about this at all but Madonna’s Austin Powers song Beautiful Stranger just popped into my head and it had the word know in it which was implying knowledge based stuff so I doubt there’s many people that you’d all love just because you knew them and I’ve gone a bit silly now so I’ll stop here...

Next time you go to use the word knowledge I’d like you to stop and think about what you really mean.  I think the vast majority of the time we use the word without really thinking and what we’re really referring to is learning.  I know learning isn’t a noun and knowledge is, but again that ties in to point one, knowledge isn’t really a thing so it shouldn’t be represented by a noun in the first place.  You’re either learning or you’ve stopped learning, and if you’ve stopped learning, well, even if knowledge didn’t fade (and it does) you’d never have any more than you have right now and that’s a shame eh?