A Learners View of Knowledge
What do you want to learn?
I always wanted to learn how to fly a plane.
I would watch birds fly around and glide effortlessly and I was jealous. A private pilot's license seemed impossible since there was so much to learn and it was very expensive. But then I switched from thinking about what a pilot training school and various regulatory organizations wanted me to learn and what I wanted to learn.
First of all I knew I didn't want to be a commercial pilot. That seemed as boring as being a bus driver. That change in Context
eliminated having to learn many of the topics on the pilots written test. I simply didn't need to know them given my specific goals.
Next, and this was another huge Context
change - birds don't have engines! I wanted the pure experience of flying not dealing with noisy, smelly, vibrating plane engines that could run out of gas or catch on fire! Gliding, or as I later learned, Soaring was what I really wanted to learn.
This modification of my Purpose
often happens when I take the time to examine specifically my own true needs, wants & preferences. I no longer leave this decision to a school or teacher or even a well meaning parent.
So I searched around and found the Boston Soaring Club, which operated out of Pepperill, Mass., which is close to Nashua, NH. Surprisingly they had also cut the cost, because the training pilots were simply fellow pilots that loved to fly & to teach and so didn't charge for their time but were grateful for more free air time. So, for $35 per flight, & no long term contracts, I started to learn how to fly. I loved it even more than I thought I would. There is, in my opinion, no experience that matches flying like a bird!
My point here is that once I switched my focus from what teachers wanted me to learn to what I, as a learner, wanted to learn, the entire experience turned around. I also didn't have to sit through hours and hours of material that, for me, would have been super boring.
To better understand my fundamental assumptions, and color schemes...
See: Necessary & Sufficient Causality
I'll show examples of the 2 Design components Purposes
which result in a Learning Model
I'll also present examples of the 3 Implementation components of 'Knowledge' - Models
, and Skills
needed to build them.
Having this internal negotiation between my specific goals or Purposes
and the needs of various Contexts
Ill show you how to create an ILP (Individual Learning Plan) or Design Specification, for What
you want to learn and even How Much
of it you want to learn.
I call this the Design Phase.
I want to share those aspects of this and similar experiences so you too can turn learning from a boring frustrating experience into one of joyous accomplishment.
From learning hundreds of very different topics over the years, I've broken the mysterious, vague, slippery fog of "knowledge" into 5 simple & measurable components. Armed with an understanding of these 5 simple components you no longer need to be dependent on teachers or academic institutions to define what 'knowledge' of a particular subject includes.
This also opens up a very useful part of knowledge/training. Since the curricula, or topics to cover, of a body of knowledge can now be described by ordinary folk without academic credentials, leaders of industry & commerce can now define what specific components of 'knowledge' is needed for successful participation in their enterprises.
A note about words:
Words have many meanings, so ambiguity, accidental or deliberate, clings to every use of words.
But we need words to convey our meanings. So, we'll need to be careful to keep our meanings clear and not be mislead by words, especially words that have been used to conceal rather than to reveal; and to manipulate us rather than empower us. I've developed techniques specifically for detecting the misleading uses of words.
Continuing with the Flying example:
Having created a Design Specification, ILP, or blueprint, for What
I wanted to learn and even How Much
of it I wanted to learn, now I had to go learn it!
I call this the Implementation Phase.
Taking your learning capacity back into your own hands, you can break this implementation bucket into 3 distinct and measurable parts or groups. You can then learn them in whatever sequence is best for you, and at your own pace.
The 1st group
I'll call 'Facts
Just to be able to talk to the other members of the soaring club I needed a shared vocabulary. I needed to know the names of the various parts of the plane, and the 3 crucial instruments. In addition to the special vocabulary, I needed to learn & remember several specific numbers. For example, as the tow plane tows you down the runway when you get to about 65-70 mph you'll start to lift off; from when you release the tow plane at 3,000' if you pick up no new lift you'll land in about 18 minutes; at 1200' you should be on your final approach to land; etc., etc., etc., etc.
The 2nd group
I'll call 'Skills
In addition to the main skill of 'flying', which I'll break down shortly, there were lots of minor, specific, yet necessary skills, such as: Opening, closing, and locking the canopy; securely attaching the tow rope between the tow plane & the glider; etc. These, together, are usually called experience. Yet we all know individuals who have much experience in terms of years, yet still perform poorly. I will address this under Skills. Two concepts are extremely important here: Sequential ordering of skills execution, and Hierarchical ordering of skills learning.
For Soaring, making right & left hand turns, smoothly
, is a major necessary skill to learn.
When you finally land, you'll land on a single tire about 6" in diameter, so it's very important to keep your glider absolutely level to the ground, so you don't put the nose into the ground and flip over. It was this exact skill which "Scully" Sullenberger, a trained glider pilot, used to land his disabled Airbus 320 in the Hudson river, on January 15, 2009.
5 Brilliant Animations
I found the 1st one excellent.
Note: Unlike Facts
which can be tested for with fill in the blanks or multiple guess written tests, Skills
must be tested for by another person or now some simulators. Many of us remember the state trooper that tested us for our 1st driver's licence. Pilot licenses, like auto licenses, require another human, an instructor, to sign his or her personal name swearing that we are indeed ready to drive or fly.
The major skill here is 'Flying' which is composed of many, many sub skills. There is a process called 'Criterion Referenced Instruction' which I learned in the 80's which helps you break complex skills like flying, driving a car, sailing a boat, etc. into their many sub-skills organized in a hierarchical & sequential fashion. While it is still practiced in many countries around the world, it is unfortunately no longer used much in the US. I suspect it is part of our moving away from anything that requires accurate measurement hence accountability. It is truly sad when we know how to measure crucial skills but we refuse to do it.
The 3rd group
I'll call 'Models
These are distinct from Facts
have 2 or more Facts
connected by crucial Relationships, or skills, or functions
. Together these Facts
+ Active, Dynamic Relationships
serve the Purposes
for which the system was designed.
Understanding the relationships which binds together the parts of a particular event, person, device, system etc. we can often understand not just the current state but can imagine (mentally simulate) possible future scenarios and even what prodding or changing might be necessary for moving a system in a new direction. A caution here: Models often show only the results, not the critical sequence of skills applications.
Here are some examples of different types of Models
Maps are a form of Model
Maps show visually the geographic relationship of various locations on the map. Like all models they have some built-in assumptions or agreements or arbitrary conventions between the makers of the map and the users of the map.
Maps are drawn as if we are looking down on the world from several thousand feet above it. The parts or elements are all the symbols on the map.
One such arbitrary convention is that North, as determined by a magnetic compass, is at the top of the map. Aviation, sea navigation, even simple printed road maps all share this. Indeed on a road map if North isn't at the top, it will have an arrow to show where North points.
A second shared convention, especially on maps used for aviation, is that the total map is divided into 3600
or directions. Again, this is arbitrary, it could have been 100 or any other number, but 360 is so practical that it is shared universally.
We often want to break a whole into 1/2's, or 1/3's, or 1/4's or 1/5's, or 1/6's etc. and 360 has a huge number of other numbers that divide into it with no remainder. All of 360's factors are: 2 3 4 5 6 8 9 10 12 15 18 20 24 30 36 40 45 60 72 90 120 & 180. Wow!
Airport runway numbering:
Airport runways are numbered as a minor deviation from the 3600
world model. If we were to number runways by their magnetic compass headings, all 360 of them, it would create confusion, always a potential source of danger. Runway construction is a time consuming & very expensive process. Quite often we have to move the direction of a planned runway slightly off from where we might want it because there's a building, or river, or mountain in our way.
So again the aviation industry came up with a simple practical solution - name the runway by the nearest 100
on the compass. For example, on Boire Field 'ASH' here in Nashua, NH we have a runway whose magnetic compass heading is 1390
so we call it Runway 14 (go from 139 up to 140 then drop the 0.). Since you can land on a runway from either end the opposite direction, is called Runway 32. Together it's called Runway 14/32.
We have, here in Nashua, NH, a tower that's operational from 7 am till 9 pm. Outside that window, you're on your own. For more details than you'd ever want to know, see:
The vertical model for aviation is more abstract but shows the ground at the bottom and your plane somewhere above it. The main arbitrary convention is that distances are measured in feet, often in thousands of feet. This is not insignificant. We lost a $25 million mars lander because one group of programmers used inches, and another group used centimeters.
Also when Air Canada Flight 143 "Gimli Glider" ran out of gas it was because airplane fuelers measure fuel in Gallons but pilots measure fuel in pounds, OR in kilograms. Because 1 kilogram is about 2 pounds, the plane took off with 1/2 the fuel they needed for the flight, and hence ran out of fuel at 41,000 feet. Fortunately, Pilot Bob Pearson landed the plane as a glider. So get in the habit of always following a number by it's units; it could mean the difference between life & death.
What I consider most important here is that we agree on a standard. It's less important what that standard is, metric or English, but that we agree on it. If there are multiple standards, always state which standard you are using. If we don't we'll continue to crash airplanes, lunar landers and many other things ...
Summary so far...
I've shown examples of the 2 Design components Purposes
which result in a Model
I've also presented examples of the 3 Implementation components of 'Knowledge' - Models
, and Skills
needed to build them.
Mostly in K-12 and even college, you'll see only the 3 Implementation components. If all goes well, you'll probably be OK. But by not showing you the 2 Design components, your educators have left you very
dis-empowered, i.e. ill-prepared for life's unexpected events; and very vulnerable to those who would try to indoctrinate you into their belief systems.
If you know the car's parts, Facts
, even if you don't know their names, and have a few Skills
, like starting, stopping, turning right & left, and a vague Model
of how those many parts work together, you'll be OK, as long as things go well. But if your engine dies in the middle of a left turn - What do you do?
Let's look closer at these 5 types of Knowledge...
Each of these 5 types of knowledge will be about:
Either the Territory, where we all live, composed exclusively of Individuals Objects, or Events and embedded in specific Contexts:
OR our Mental Maps (Facts, Concepts, Ideas & Models existing exclusively in our heads) AND often both.
Characteristics & examples of the 5 components of Knowledge:
Facts - The building blocks of all of our mental concepts:
Characteristics: (& some Examples)
- Things we can Do:
- Distinction type facts
- Many facts are arbitrary, like vocabulary.
- Is 2 called two, or deux, dos, dwa, zwei, or written as "II"?
- Airplane altitudes are measured in feet, not inches or meters.
- Why are some animals called Dogs, & others Cats?
- You cannot understand a fact - only memorize it.
- What year Columbus discovered America.
- Some facts are the result of experiential testing, like the behavior of water.
- Water freezes at 320F & boils at 2120F.
- You need to remember facts now & recall them later - EXACTLY!
- The basic facts of addition (up to 9+9) & multiplication (up to 9*9).
- It's easy to measure (test) how many & how accurately you can recall them.
- Some people are impressed if you can recall thousands of facts.
- Before the Internet, such recall was very important.
- Facts could save a life (knowing your Blood Type).
- Connection type facts
- Between surgeons washing hands & reducing infections.
- Between exercise & weight loss.
- Between profit & wealth.
- Between temperature and health (pasteurization).
Characteristics: (& some Examples)
Models: - Things we can Understand.
- Most are learned slowly & practiced often to achieve mastery.
- Bicycling, whistling, juggling, skiing.
- Some are muscular, some mental, even strategic, some social;
most involve more than 1 area.
- Tennis, flying, starting a campfire, negotiating.
- Can be measured; but by a different type of test.
- Performance rather than just recall.
- Skills usually add significant value to our resources.
- Arranging skills, both hierarchically, & sequentially, is often critical.
- Since our ability to think & create is built upon Facts,
the skill of Memorization is critical & ought to be taught directly.
Characteristics: (& some Examples)
Motives: - Why we do things.
- Models are designed to accomplish specific purposes
, within certain contexts.
- Models have static parts, active relationships, and often time delays.
- Cars, toilets, businesses, governments, people.
- Timing is often critical in our real experiential world.
- Toilets, drinking alcohol, learning, thinking, sharing.
- Model value can be measured; but by different criteria.
- Range of applicability, ease of learning, ease of use, accuracy.
- Models are often hierarchical.
- Car has subsystems: Electrical, power, steering, etc.
- People have many subsystems: Digestion, circulation, reproduction, etc.
- Understanding models can be measured; but by different types of tests.
- Applying to new situations.
- The Skill of 2 digit multiplication requires understanding a model of place value representation of numbers, and the facts of the 9x9 multiplication and addition tables.
- Models of how people behave
- Useful for training, empowering, & manipulation.
- Models often show results, but hide the sequence of skill application necessary to achieve those results.
Characteristics: (& some Examples)
Contexts: - Specific types of situations.
- It often requires strong & persistent passion to create New Knowledge
or improve existing Knowledge.
- And great endurance to share it with those who do not want the status quo disturbed.
- To learn any type of Knowledge, one must be at least minimally motivated.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's FLOW model explains sustaining motivation.
See his: "Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play".
Basically he challenges us to keep our activities between
the 2 limits of Anxiety: Boredom & Overwhelm.
- The old excuse ""You'll need this later", no longer motivates us.
- Many, many skills, like doing cube roots, I never needed later.
Characteristics: (& some Examples)
- Contexts can significantly influence learning.
- Peer pressure, & parental encouragement
- Context Impact varies widely between Individuals and within each Individual over time.
- Extroverts are usually more sensitive to contexts than Introverts.
- As we grow older, more contexts impact changes.
Two additional concepts:
Abilities or Capabilities:
give us Potential
We still need the
to pull the trigger AND the right
to be effective. Individuals make these decisions. The US can have the most powerful weapons in the world; but if our president is unwilling to pull the trigger, we might as well have a slingshot. And we must constantly consider the ever changing worldwide context.
- Given adequate
we can, potentially:
- Multiply a 2 digit number by another 2 digit number as explained above.
- Fight off an attacker. This might include having a weapon & knowing how to use it;
and/or being skilled in self-defense techniques.
- Learn how to fly a plane. This requires a great many pieces of factual knowledge, mastered skills, several models, the will to live, and awareness of several different & sometimes conflicting contexts such as weather, air schedules, air traffic etc.
- Learn how to play a tennis match. In addition to the skill of hitting the ball accurately, one must know the rules of scoring, analyzing one's opponents strengths & skills, awareness of the wind & sun angle, etc. etc. etc...
Of the many different things we know, which should we use in a particular situation?
Values are what we use to sort this out.
Example: Sully Sullenberger landing on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. He knew a great number of facts & skills as well as Models & a constant commitment to keep his passengers & crew safe. His wisdom guided him in the unexpected context of losing both engines shortly after takeoff.
Further related topics see:
Knowledge Creation - How is Kn created & by whom?
Knowledge Representation - How is Kn represented both in our minds and externally?
Knowledge Transfer -
How is Kn transferred from: Individual to Individual,
....& community to community?
Knowledge Overview - an overview of my Knowledge pages
Last Updated: Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014 7:15 PM
Comments: Questions, examples, etc.:
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