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WHAT IT MEANS TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING

(a short and sweet explanation) - Part 2

Dr. Bob Kizlik

October 27, 2015

Knowledge, I believe,  is constructed from information received in some manner by the learner. In a sense, learning itself can be described as the outcome of the process by which knowledge is constructed.  In this vein, it is important to distinguish between information and knowledge.  It is my opinion, but I believe that all books, magazines, guides, videos, papers, etc., do not contain knowledge for the reader, observer, or listener. These media may represent the knowledge of the person or persons who created them, but the result is mere information for the recipient. Information is transformed into knowledge by the recipient when certain conditions are met. One person's knowledge is initially another person's information.

Knowledge, as I see it occupies a continuum of functions that goes from explanation to prediction. I believe that any knowledge a person has is by definition personal knowledge. Although people may share similar understandings, each is in some way different from all others. But what it really means is that a person who has constructed knowledge is able to do things that a person who does not have knowledge cannot do. This is a simple, yet powerful concept.

The functions of knowledge

The explanation function of knowledge means that a person can describe in written or oral form what it is he or she "knows" to the extent that a person familiar with the subject of the putative knowledge would make a reasonable inference that the person doing the explaining understood the subject of the explanation. It's rather simple -- if you know, you can explain.

The control function of knowledge means that the person claiming the knowledge is able to use it in some observable way to actually influence or manipulate events, objects, or processes in accordance with either accepted procedures or in novel ways that lead to a desired outcome with little or no undesirable side effects. It is possible to exercise the control function of knowledge relating to some object or process without being able to explain the attributes of the object or process. Think of driving a car as an example.

The predict function of knowledge is the most profound, important, and least appreciated of the three. If a person has knowledge at an advanced level, it can be taken to mean that the person is able to use that knowledge to make more accurate predictions. Of course, the proof of the pudding is not in describing it but in eating it. Consistent accurate predictions beyond the accepted .05 statistical threshold of chance or sampling error lead to the inescapable conclusion that the person making the predictions possesses knowledge.

And we know this because...

How do we know for sure that a person understands what we intend for him or her to understand?  There is no easy answer, but one thing is clear -- we always make inferences about what we don't know based on what we do know. That simple declarative sentence is a major cornerstone for using behavioral objectives. Of course, some will quibble with such adjectives as "behavioral," "learning," or "instructional" when speaking about such objectives. I think the adjective makes little difference, but for the sake of argument, here is one way to deal with it:

We are always interested in the learning, regardless of its antecedents; therefore, learning objectives occupy the apex of a pyramid. I chose the term "learning objectives" when developing the program "How to Write Learning Objectives," although I do refer to them often as behavioral objectives in the program. It is inescapable that a learning objective will contain some description of behavior.

We infer learning because of some observable behavior. Therefore, the next layer from the apex is behavioral objectives. A behavioral objective is a statement that describes what a student will do in order for learning to be inferred. Sometimes we infer learning where no learning has taken place, often as the result of certain objective tests whose outcomes are taken to mean a student understands something.

Finally, there are instructional objectives, the base of the pyramid. Ostensibly, such objectives, as you may have alrteady read about on the ADPRIMA site, describe an outcome related to instruction. The assumption is that the instruction is external to the one being instructed. While this is true most of the time, it is not a very good description of learning that takes place in a idiosyncratic, personal way. In fact, I believe that most learning takes place independently of any formal teaching or instruction.  The very process by which you are reading and reacting to the information on this page and the previous page is certainly illustrative of the point.

All that preceded this sentence is reflective of my knowledge, and my ability to explain what it is I know. For you, the reader, it is mere information. If you internalize this information, attach some meaning to it, it can become part of what you know if it results in one of the three functions described above.

To that end, I sincerely hope this has been of benefit to you.

Back to Part 1 

"Anything not understood in more than one way is not understood at all."

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