Why knowledge is no longer enough: learning and living in the new world.

This last couple of weeks, i’ve been thinking around the idea that knowing things is no longer enough. Instead, we have to know how to use that knowledge, to bring it to bear in different situations, to synthesise multiple channels into one coherent story and enact change based on our analysis. It used to be the case that we could derive authority and power from what we knew, but now, it’s more about what we can do with all the things that we know. Simply knowing things is no longer enough.

One challenge for organisations is getting people to realise that what they already know has increasingly diminishing value. How to learn and solve problems together is becoming the real business advantage” says Harold Jarche, and he’s absolutely right: our ability to adapt to changing technologies and changing requirements in a networked and social world is key. We have to change the way we view ‘knowledge‘, change the ways we access it and change how we think about it.

I’ve been carrying out some research on the Learning Forum into how strongly people agree with this assertion, and how they feel this themselves, and the results have been interesting. For a start, 100% of people agreed that the world has changed: that it’s our ability to use multiple sources of knowledge, at speed, that is now the measure of success.

I’m particularly interested in how mobile learning and technology is changing how we access knowledge, instantly, in response to immediate requirements. We check train times, our email or Facebook throughout the day, responding to impulse and need. We use google to enhance the quality of our conversations by adding in facts like seasoning as we require them. Talking about the Titanic? We can google it and add in facts and figures at will, whilst we are having the conversation. You no longer need to carry this stuff in your head!

Mobile technology is a means of gaining knowledge quickly“, says Susanna Westerfield, on the Forum, but there is a caveat. “Putting the new ‘knowledge’ (skill) into action takes time (and multiple experiences).

This, i think, is a key factor in the change. The knowledge itself now comes easily, but synthesising that knowledge into developed skills and changed abilities takes time and practice. This has impacts for how we develop and structure learning: how much of our efforts should be around divulging knowledge and how much should be about facilitating the practice? Where should our focus lie?

We need to consider how we coach and support individuals as they go through this process of practicing and rehearsing skills, but we also need to consider whether new skills are needed too. Is the process of using mobile to find knowledge a skill in it’s own right? It’s all very well assuming that people can find knowledge themselves, but we can’t assume that everyone can do this in equal measure, with equal ability.

With increasing amounts of information becoming available, it’s valuable to know how to stay strategically informed and access the information you need quickly” says Jillian Convey, and how true this is. “Understanding how to convert that knowledge to action relies on instantly being able to connect a lot of different dots.” Being able to discern the relative quality of each of the available sources of knowledge and being able to ‘join the dots‘ is a valuable skill: being able to do it at speed is harder. There are simply so many competing channels of media, so much information, that it’s not hard to find a huge range of information. It’s very hard to whittle it down though. It’s like the huge stack of books sat on my shelf waiting to be read. Where do i even start?

Aubrae Lutz gives us an insight when she says “the baseline has changed. The fact that one can acquire and gain a lot of knowledge is the new baseline. What one can do with that knowledge is the differentiator“. This is spot on, our ability to manipulate that knowledge, to apply it, is far more valuable than simply having knowledge ‘in the abstract‘. As i said earlier, simply knowing things is no longer enough: it’s what you do with that knowledge that counts.

Says Jim Blythe, “as trainers, we have to go against ingrained ideas… in the business world, there are a lot of organisations who are driven by gaining knowledge to a point where they are frozen into inertia. Training should drive the application of theory, challenge the status quo and expand the way learners think

So we need to consider what we do with knowledge: are we training it to the point of inertia, as Jim worries about, or are we providing the right tools and methods to allow people to react to these multiple sources at speed, the main concern that Jillian holds? Probably neither is the answer at the moment: i think that this is largely a hidden issue. It’s the right time to be considering it, as the world changes around us, we need to adapt, to change our methodology for learning and the ways in which we view knowledge and what we expect people to do with it.

We already live in the new world. Our ability to change and adapt is up to us.

You can read more of the comments around this subject in the Learning Forum here: http://lnkd.in/DjhAV8

Harold Jarche’s blog is here: (http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ejarche%2Ecom%2F2012%2F04%2Fthree-principles-for-net-work%2F&urlhash=nZh9&_t=tracking_anet)

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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10 Responses to Why knowledge is no longer enough: learning and living in the new world.

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  4. Pete Laberge says:

    Sometimes, slow knowledge is best. And experience, too. And thinking.
    A comparison: “You have to but some gas in the tank to make the car run.”

    Similarly, you need some knowledge of facts, stats, procedures, methods, techniques, etc…. some stuff that is memorized, and known, AND UNDERSTOOD (as your gas, or seed ideas) before you can be able to “let it swish around” and use it to re-remix, to invent new stuff, to recycle, etc.

    And you need some experience in doing all this, too. Moreover, you need some time. Rome was not built in a day. Yes, there are child prodigies. Yes there are idiot savants. Yes, there are 1 hit wonders. But how many greats in history did not hit their stride until older in life? (There are too many examples.) They took the time to “get all the bits together”. Or rather, it took then time (and some effort) to get the bits together.

    A lousy example, but: Being able to Google the theory of relativity, is quick & neat. Being able to understand it, may take time. Being able to do something with it? Who knows?

    Another poor example, but a real one (a cousin did this!): You can Google or get single book from the library on how to change or fix your car’s brakes. But without the training and the experience, it may be unwise to rely on your work. (My cousin got a bad scare, only! Phew!)

    Just because you can get a bunch of stuff off the net, and sound like an expert, does not make you an expert. And that is one of the fallacies or rather pitfalls, today. (I read an interesting article that recently, but lost the link when my computer crashed.)

    This is not to say that using the net is bad. The net is just a tool. A useful tool. But though you may like a hammer, a good carpenter also uses a saw and a drill, and a screwdriver.

    This is not to say that learning how to look things up on the net is bad. But the net, has problems: A lot of stuff up there is not very expert. And a lot is false. And a lot is ephemeral. (Google the recent “Sandy Storm” fake pics, while you still can.) So, one must learn how to look things up in other places to verify them, too. And one must also know how to figure out the good from the bad (See: CRAAP Information Validity Test Calif State Univ.) And it takes time, knowledge, and experience to know (learn / understand/ get experience) how to do that.

    How can you know what questions to ask, if you do not have some basic knowledge to begin with? A conundrum!

    And how can you know that what you looked up is honest, accurate, valid, timely (but maybe not too timely!), useful…. if you do not know and understand a bit about the topic first? Another conundrum to watch out for. Well, more of a pitfall, actually.

    The trouble is, a lot of (not all) people today are in too much of a hurry. And they do not bother to do the verification, and the learning, and the thinking. The brain is more like a slow cooker, not a microwave. Teaching this to people (young or old) is not that easy. And getting people to use these tools, and this critical thinking and skepticism… Well… You can lead a horse to water…. But make sure you drink potable water!

    No, knowledge is not enough. But it is the foundation. One leg of the “table”. The thinking, the analyzing, that is leg two. The understanding and the experience to properly use what you looked up, that is the third leg. Without those three legs, the ability to look stuff up, to find stuff, is not enough. And the knowing how to look up AND how to FIND, that is the 4th leg.

    A query: What are some ways to get all 4 legs of the table stabilized? And in use? How to not run too fast? How to not jump to conclusions? How to not get frozen like a deer in the headlights? (I know I asked a big one. But I ask because I need the answer! But I have perhaps given you some ideas for more topics to discuss…. I hope I did you a favour. I did not mean to give you a headache Thanks for any help you can give!)

    PM Laberge, Ontario, Canada

    • julianstodd says:

      Great points Pete, thanks for taking the time to share such a detailed response. You are right, of course, to call me to account! I am being deliberately provocative to state that knowledge is no longer enough 🙂 I like how you talk about stuff being memorized, understood and ‘swishing around’ – this is the process of creating meaning that i’m thinking about currently. The way that we aquire knowledge and use it to create meaning.

      So knowledge is certainly not enough, but it does form the foundation. Your points about developing ‘slow knowledge’ are great, i like the phrase. In terms of our learning methodology, i think the ‘slow knowledge’ is that which we cook using reflection and exploration: playing with it, allowing it to settle and working out what we keep and what we archive or reject!

      It is a nuanced process and i like your examples and reflections. A good counterpoint and one that makes the article richer.

      • Pete Laberge says:

        Thank you for your kind comments!

        You can use it and remix it all,,,, for free. (All I want is a footnote, or whatever.) If I inspired you with my reply or questions (Which I really would like answers to, although it is possibly impossible.), if I made you think. That is my devious plan.

        I asked, and stated my worries, because I worry about modern education’s emphasis on Googling everything. (I like the new emphasis on critical thinking, though.) Yes, memorizing times tables was boring, but it did develop the memory. (Was it any use? I dunno.) And there is evidence our memories are failing.

        That being said, I think the issue (at least partly) is:
        1. WHAT do we/should we memorize, and WHEN, and how.
        2. And WHAT do we lust learn to look up?
        But…. how can you look something up, without knowing what questions to ask and how.
        I know these are rhetoriacal, and have no real answers. But should we at least not think about some possible answer sets?

        Albeit: Schools are making progress with the showing of how to Google or ask questions. Students are getting valuable practice and experience. GOOD!

        “They” claim they can teach thinking and creativity today. I am sorry, but at the ripe old age of 56, that is pure BS. People, even kids, think naturally. They need experience in actually “doing thinking,” They need time to develop their own “styles”. They need time to get some BOTH some failures AND some successes AND some “neutral outcomes” under their belts. They need some examples, and some appropriate exercises to use their brains to think…

        As for creativity, well, that cannot be taught either. Creativity, is not something you turn off and on like a lamp! You can give a person a chance to exercise their creativity. (An excuse to be creative, if you will!) You can critique creativity. But there are different kinds of creativity! And: Not all life is fun and games, and creativity and making videos. It seems teachers often teach what “they” like, but not necessarily that the students need. The schools are turning out students who are set to become teachers. But we need trades! And other people! We need HVAC techs, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, road builders, construction people, sales people, the list goes on and on…..

        And I worry about the emphasis on oddball, non standard, computer programs and so on. There is so much to learn, and so little time! Playing games and making movies, and so forth, well, we are not all George Lucases. Some of the Project Based Learning stuff makes sense though… But this is nothing new. It is a mere re-cycling of the Harvard Business Case MBA / Comm Dip stuff, from, I think, the 80’s.

        I recall trying to take an electronics course, once. It was way above my head.
        They spent more time and effort trying to get me to:

        1. Memorize “resistor band codes”, “capacitor colors and ratings”, and other stuff like that… (All stuff I could have made a cheat sheet for, even using a Win 3.1 Computer! Heck, even using an Apple //e!) What a waste of my time! Did they not know this stuff would eventually come to me, just by using the things, and doing things with them, and looking at the cheat sheets?
        2. Memorizing vocabulary that NOTHING to do with electronics. It was there that I learned the word Schadenfreude! Yes, I really needed that! I use the word at least daily! Do not get me wrong: There was nothing wrong with expanding my vocabulary. But this was not the time or the place for that.
        3. They made us take an English course on Diary and Journal writing. Look, nothing wrong with that either. I likes the teacher. She was a wonderful human being, and very beautiful. But again, not what I needed. I made a deal with her. Rather than read about my boring existence, I gave her a small duotang of wild stories. She cried when I dropped out for health reasons. “Don’t leave me with all these boring, spiteful people who cannot write, she said!) She kept the duotang!
        4. They seemed obsessed with my taking neat notes (HAH!) and drawing nice, clean, accurate, detailed, neat circuit diagrams. I am a sketcher, not a technical artist. I could have learned so much more useful stuff….
        5. They made us take a “history of technology” course. Basically videos that some crazy British dude had made. They taught me, for example about windmills! In an electronics course! Not how to design, of build a windmill. Not about modern windmills. Nope, this was Don Quixote and the Little Dutch Boy stuff. Most people slept in that “class”. My problem, was I liked watching the shows, though they were of no value to me. Yes, I know that is MY fault.

        And all I needed was more time and help with the math and the “pertinent concepts”. They also tried to cram a 4 year course, into not 3 years, but into 1.5 years. YIKES! I dropped out. That is too bad, because there was much potential there. Are you sitting down? This was adult training! Imagine a poor kid!

        I would tell you about the horrors of a cooking course, but dammit, now this is sucking up your valuable time. Besides, I want to ENCOURAGE you. Not DEPRESS you. And it seems that all teachers today, are peed off, unhappy, ready to quit, and mad at everyone. That scares me. Are you guys & gals planning to “go postal”? What the hella can outsiders (well actually, people on the periphery) like me do? Can somebody explain the problem? And could we not work together to “brainstorm”, or do something to come up with some at least “partial” solutions? Or something? Cripes I am scared! For the kids, and the teachers.

        I had some brutal, horrible, teachers/profs.instructors in my day. They should not have been allowed within 50,000 miles of a student. They made me hate school and teachers. (And art and music, too.) But there were a few, who were OK. A few who were great. Some of the stuff they did, helped me NOT ONE bit for future life. (It was not all their fault!) But in memory of those OK ones… I am, in my own primitive way, trying to help.

        All I can say is: “Hang in there.” Geez! I am such a fool…. How can that comment help? But it is late, and I must go to bed. Please forgive the rambling. Take care. Please?
        Goodnight.

      • julianstodd says:

        I agree that failure is an important part of learning, although we need to surround the failure with contextual feedback and support to help draw out the learning.

        https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/ignorance-is-bliss-how-to-avoid-learning-to-fail/

        I like the conversation about creativity: can you teach it, can you facilitate it? For organisations, it has to be about more than just ‘process’. I think that it’s a mistake to think you can codify it in that.

        https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/creative-learning-how-do-we-capture-creativity/

      • Pete Laberge says:

        Thank you! Boy you SAID A LOT in those 2 blog posts. They should be required reading! (Although, my opinion on that, and $5 will buy a coffee and a muffin at Timbo’s in 2012!) I hope someday to maybe make a few salient comments, but you will have to forgive me. I have a full meal on my plate at the moment! Take care!

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