Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Knowledge is (no)thing

This week's Connectivism course topic is "Rethinking Knowledge" and after doing some reading and looking at forum postings, I added this comment:

One of the most common aspects of the meaning of knowledge traditionally is that it is imagined to exist in forms similar to physical objects. It can be created, transferred, shared, stored, altered, measured, etc. Even those who view knowledge as made up of neural connections in the brain tend to apply the same predicates that perpetuate the analogy of knowledge as a thing. This quasi-physical-entity view of knowledge has strongly influenced how learning is perceived to take place -- the classical empty vessel (Student) who is "filled" with stuff (knowledge) by having that stuff "transferred" from someone who "possesses" it in the first place.

To me, one of the appealing premises of Connectivism is an opportunity to break free of this "knowledge as stuff" analogy and replace it with something different. However, in Connectivism there is still a danger that we will fall into the old view by imagining connections once again as quasi-physical things. My hope is that we can avoid this tendency and redefine knowledge as something more dynamic. It may be useful to conceive of knowledge as a manifestation of constantly shifting systemic connections or relationships, something we experience rather than get or have. In this view, the experiencing of knowledge is continuous, dynamic, and can be both conscious and unconscious.

Ultimately, "Knowledge" is just a human construct. It is an abstracted notion that has value only in so far as we can use it in communication (with others or ourselves) to represent some part of our experience/perception of the world. We can be as idiosyncratic as we want in using the word (like Alice in Wonderland where knowledge means "exactly what I want it to mean") , but the less idiosyncratic is is, the more useful it becomes in forming connections with others that produce desired outcomes. So, typically there is pressure to adopt the most commonly held definition. The trick is to step back every once in a while and to remember that other definitions are always possible.

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