Today i am #WorkingOutLoud on the Learning Science Guidebook. This post is a fragment of an idea that i will share with Sae, and explore in our joint writing through this week – and shared as such – imperfect work, notes really, a fragment of thought, in this case about the taxonomy of information, or knowledge.
When we were talking last week, i described some of my recent focus (and language) around the creation of meaning. In this work, i’ve started to differentiate between the transfer of knowledge (as artefacts) into the creation of meaning (a narrative that we inhabit). This touches upon a broad range of other ideas that i’ve been deconstructing or reimagining as part of the broader Learning Fragments work: the mechanisms of creation, validation, ownership and transfer of knowledge, both formal and social, the notion of Dominant Narratives in both innovation and social change, the constraints of learning (occlusion by the known), and the mechanisms of individual and collective sense making, among other things.
Sae pointed out that there is already a clear and accepted taxonomy of knowledge, and that parts of what i describe may diverge from that – so we fell to talking about whether i’m just wrong, or using different language, or if we are exploring a new paradigm around learning. Or just confused (we also talked quite a bit about complexity, and how we have to wade through it…). Note that in this article (to reiterate, a note, part of my contribution to our collaboration) i am sharing one perspective – we will also be sharing our joint writing and draft output here on the blog as we go, hopefully with a new section later this week.
As i sketched the two approaches next to each other, i found myself adding ‘evolving’ and ‘emergent’ against the words ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Meaning’. In terms of knowledge, i normally say that i’m operating at a highly pragmatic level, not one of epistemology, but one of wikipedology… essentially to say that we are tending to interact with socially validated and distributed (filtered) knowledge, knowledge that is ‘just about good enough’, on an everyday basis, and that this knowledge is far more fluid and evolutionary than the types of formalised and codified knowledge of yesterday.
Or to put it another way: whatever ‘formal’ view we have of knowledge, today we tend to be learning in a sea of more granular, adaptive, and highly imperfect knowledge – but also more highly interconnected through the radical connectivity of the Social Age, and hence connected into more powerful (distributed and diverse) sense making community structures (note that i would differentiate between ‘sense making’ as a function, and whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, which itself may often be a contextual judgement).
So as ‘knowledge’ changes (at least in this grubby and pragmatic sense), then the creation of meaning (put simply, ‘what we do with it’), the mental construct of how we believe that the world works, changes too. And emerges to be more important.
Hence why i would tentatively posit that ‘Meaning’ becomes as important (or more so?) than knowledge alone – which is really just an extension of the popular wisdom of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” – although in this case it would be “what you know and who you know, and the meaning that you construct between the ‘what’ and the community of ‘who’).
As a side note: if you are interested in the social co-creation of meaning, i am also exploring that in more depth over in ‘The Identity Project’ – one of which aims is to explore the impact of identity on learning).
A better developed part of this work is that around sense making, reflected here in the notion that ‘Meaning’ is created at both the individual and collective level. This is an interesting point for me, and i would note that collective (or co-created) sense made is not simply the aggregation of all the individual pieces – there is both loss from the individual account, and also a new layer of narrative – overlaid by power structure, social norms, and collective experience of the group. In this sense, collectively generated narratives of knowledge (or meaning) should not specifically be viewed as a truth, except to the people who find them to be true (!), but also that they are not even necessarily true then, at an individual level. It’s far from certain that i will personally align entirely between my sense of meaning, and the collective sense.
Which led me to this: that we operate within both an ‘Individually Constructed’ as well as ‘Socially Co-Created’ framework of meaning.
I say ‘operate’, but could easily have said ‘learn’ or ‘lead’, or indeed ‘fail’, ‘experiment’.
I think that a rich area for our Learning Science focus on this will be in the different mechanisms by which these two things operate: in this sketch i’ve shown ‘Individually Constructed’ as being held in cognitive schemas (which is really a placeholder for the right language about the individual neurological construct of learning), and the ‘Dominant Narratives’ of social co-creation (which is a whole pile of stuff about consensus, cost of divergence, social exclusion, reinforcement, belief, and everything else as a cultural and collective level – psychology and sociology etc).
This is then grounded into ‘space to think and operate’, which is actually a very pragmatic outcome: that our sense of meaning defines our space in broad terms within which we tend to think and operate.
I’ll give you an example of that: the notion of ‘money’ is simply a dominant narrative of society, and yet is so encompassing that it’s hard to envisage an everyday conversation that could escape it’s influence.
The final illustration starts to link out to aspects of learning that we may wish to consider further, such as the role of disturbance, how we handle and react to divergent narratives (which ties into questions of Social Learning and the Socially Dynamic Organisation), and our relationship with ambiguity – there is quite a lot in this one and i will build out further on this tomorrow.