Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taking education from information to knowledge

THIS article is the antidote to the stupid "Google is making us stupid" article I posted about yesterday. In the hierarchy of learning, we move thusly (mostly my definitions, blending some stuff I've picked up):

 1. Noise (undifferentiated stimulus). 2. Data (differentiated stimulus with understood measures). 3. Information (relationships between data). 4. Knowledge (how to use information usefully). 5. Wisdom (how to apply knowledge more usefully over time).

Schools used to be about teaching kids how to find and memorize information. Then they'd go to work and develop knowledge skills (and hopefully some wisdom). In a world where information seeking is much less frictional, we can either make the grotesque error of trying to add friction back into information finding ("Google is making us dumber") or we can move "up" one level in how and what we teach, seeking to impart knowledge -- the ability to *do useful and interesting things* -- to students rather than fill them up with information that is trivially obtained in most cases now.

I've said this for years: artists get it (it's one reason I love teaching at CCAD). You can't learn to draw, paint, sculpt, design, etc. by reading books about it. You have to DO THINGS to learn to do them. A lot of the new-ish pedagogy of entrepreneurship and leadership in business is built on understanding this ("fail early, fail often," etc.). In the arts and music, this is known as "practice." You don't pick up a guitar and expect that a knowledge of musical theory will make you a great player. You have to play for thousands of hours.

My brother John had a great book about the business of acting that he loaned me many years ago. Not the craft, but the biz; how to get an agent, when to join a union, etc. etc. At one point, the author says that there will be times when you'll be the most talented person at an audition, but you still won't get the gig. Because they need someone taller to match the romantic interest. Because they need someone who is less handsome or more quirky looking or can ride a motorcycle. His summation of this is profound:

"As children, we are rewarded for being 'good.' As adults, we are rewarded for being 'useful,' and nobody teaches us that transition."

Education needs to train people to be useful. And I don't mean in the "trade skills" kind of way. We need to train kids to be useful as thinkers, inventors, creators and cognizant citizens. We need them to understand not just how to learn, but how to learn to *do* things. How to move from being good information gatherers to knowledge hunters.

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