Monday, June 19

Saving "knowing" from imminent execution

This posting is meant as a follow-up to the discussion Clark Aldrich and I had going in his post about Dead Reckoning. I'm posting it here because I think it leads the discussion in a new direction.

Most of us are now used to the slogan "learning by doing" and the implicit opposition between "knowing" (brain-based, or even more restrictedly, mind-based) and "doing" which involves a range of associated skills, from perception to reasoning.

I'd like to suggest a way of going beyond the simple dichotomy "knowing/doing" and, in a valiant attempt to rescue knowledge from oblivion (or the perils of rational management, as the first term of KM), propose a list of various approaches to building (rather than just acquiring) knowledge:

. knowing from sensing (perception with its multiple facets),
. knowing from being told by someone who, we believe, already knows,
. knowing from doing,
. knowing from playing by the explicit rules,
. knowing from playing by the implicit rules,
. knowing from playing beyond the rules (explicit or implicit),
. knowing from being expected to know or being recognized as someone who knows (or is in a position to know).

The second one is primarily what we associate with the old school and traditional pedagogy. But focusing on this alone may be doing an injustice to the notion of knowledge, which need not be static. The third one -- much bandied about these days -- encompasses all the playing modes that follow. The last one is the most mysterious, but I think much more common than we suppose. I think it deserves some special attention.

In the perspective of these types of "coming to know", knowing and doing are not opposed. In fact, they are closely linked. The essential ways of building knowledge (doing and being, rather than the passive "being told") are extremely varied.

My question to Clark is, "can these distinctions have any meaning or potential development in simulation"? I expect that they can. The last three seem to be fairly specific to forms of informal (i.e. unplanned and unprogrammed) learning. Knowledge gained in this way may of course subsequently be formalized, but it could be argued that deep learning takes place only through the conversion of the informal into the formal. (I'm not saying I'm ready to argue that, only to entertain the idea and therefore open the debate).

Any takers?


Clark Aldrich said...

I am not sure I am completely following you, but I do want to hit two of your early points.

1. Even though we talk about "learning by doing," I don't think we get it and are doing it, especially in the formal learning areas. We are just scratching the beginning of the surface. Ultimately, I believe it is a movement that will rewire every aspect of education.

2. I think the problem is not a dichotomy between knowing and doing. I don't think anyone would argue that there is, although plenty of academic traditionalists will work hard to characterize the argument that way to cynically rally support. The worry is that by freeze-drying knowledge/knowing/wisdom in a passive, linear structure, we have all but killed it. We have then corrupted curricula to focus on those slivers that can be well captures that way, including inner-monologues, and processes and timelines. Thus we have sub-optimized both schools and training. The challenge now is to re-invent formal learning using an active, non-linear view, which computer games partically inspire, and well-designed sims can partially model. If the interface and systems are well designed, students learn about big skills through living their lives at a higher level of self-awareness and appreciate of impact.

Peter Isackson said...

I think we've been making the same point but from two different angles. Yes, we are just scratching the surface. We are at the beginning of a seismic shift in learning culture. And I totally agree with you about the need to wrench "knowing" away from the traditionalists, who have, as you say, freeze-dried it (but in so doing they've also killed the taste, something Maxwell House successfully avoided).

You define the challenge as re-inventing formal learning. My list of ways of knowing is intended to show that in transforming formal learning we need to take into account its relationship to informal learning.

In short, there's an immense amount of work to be done, and in a lot of complementary areas.

Clark Aldrich said...

For me, what makes the simulation thing so interesting is not that it solves all problems, because it doesn't. Nor does it provide a complete model of knowledge and wisdom. But what it does provide is a scalable model for dynamic, action oriented content that radically expands the definitions of content, at both a high level and a low level.

It leverages existing structures in a better way, while requiring a reletively small number of producers to have a great impact.

For me, the business model of any revolution is just as important as the content.

jay said...

I'm coming around to a view that too much focus on learning takes away from a higher level concern: the nature of what is being learned. (These are ideas I've pilfered from others and processed in my cerebral blender; I'll take the blame but not the credit.)

Clark, I love your term "freeze-drying knowledge." I cry when I think of how much of my life I've wasted on this inert, dated set of beliefs. That was then.

This is now. Knowledge is being crowded out by meaning. Meaning is personal. It's the view of the world one assembles from bits and pieces of doing, exposure, sensing, and more.

When our metronomes tick off a faster and faster tempo, knowledge that once seemed eternal turns into just another short-lived blip on the radar. This creates an opening for personal interpretations to supplant the wisdom of the elders. Personal meaning replaces commonly accepted knowledge as the basis for how people interact with the world.

(Forgive my language, but it's late here and, after all, this is Berkeley.)

The goal of learning is to develop the ability to create and maintain a worldview that invites success in work, family, and all aspects of life. Simulation is an excellent approach for accomplishing this, as is experience.

Clark Aldrich said...

Hi Jay,


I admit to having sematic fatigue, especially when it comes to "facts vs. information vs. knowledge vs. wisdom" and other related terms. I agree with your descriptions of "meaning," their importance, and accept that the term "meaning" may jump-start a productive review of how to accomplish meaningful formal learning, and yet I also worry that you have to necessarily attack the concept of knowledge to make the point that someone as petty as I could get hung up on defending!

That is why I have been focusing on my so-called "big skills" as a way of both circumventing the terms and focusing on the somewhat timeless knowing/doing pairing they represent. They are great "send a person to the moon" goals that should align all interested parties.

Having said that, they are only a piece of the puzzle., and I am glad you are working on other pieces.

jay said...

Clark, I think exaggeration to get a point across is in my DNA. My paternal grandmother warned my mother when she was joining the family that hyperbole was in our family nature. Actually, she said, "Cross men lie a lot."

I am out to change the world, and I have to keep reminding myself that doesn't require destroying the old world.

Clark Aldrich said...

It takes only seconds to make a bold prediction, but then years to make sure it actually comes true.

Unknown said...

Clark and Jay,
I have a point of view on this, and I hope insight, based on recent experience.

First, my context frames my thoughts on “knowing/doing/meaning/etc.” I am an educator with a background in experiential teambuilding, leadership training and online education. I am currently in a doctoral program in adult learning. One thing I have noticed is a philosophy that static knowledge is useless/traditional/non-existent and that meaning, contextualized knowledge and interpretation is all-important.

I partially agree with the idea that static knowledge loses some impact (or flavor, if you will), however in my readings I have noticed a trend where people replacing knowledge with meaning. My challenge to this is that in order to get to a point of meaning, I really think we need to have some knowledge first. In this, knowledge is a necessary component of creating meaning. For me, any constructivist model that ignores this comes up a little short. I see huge value in models that discuss gaining knowledge and meaning. Personally, I think that the two are gained/developed together as we learn.

I had a recent experience that connects this to the question of knowing-from-doing. I am not sure what to conclude from it, but the experience was interesting to me and feels connected.

Today I received a camping hammock – a tent and hammock in one. I read the instructions on the back to see how I was supposed to set it up and went outside to give it a try. The directions were clear, and I knew how to do all the steps (find the right kind of trees, tying the knots, etc.) but I also knew that I needed to experience setting up the hammock a few times to understand how it worked in interaction with real trees and nature. Now, I had knowledge of the practice, but I also wanted to have experience with the device. I am not sure if this is an example of wanting knowledge from doing as a different kind of knowledge OR that experiencing the practice of setting up the hammock just increased my knowledge of the process by providing better data; both richer and more extensive.

What if knowing is knowing, and it is not a matter of HOW we know but using multiple methods to know more – more extensively, more nuanced, more in depth?