Thursday, 23 February 2006

Teaching and Learning Implications of Connectedness

This is the seventh and last in a series on "Information, language, knowledge and connectedness". The previous posts are part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

So far, I have put forward a distinction which I like to emphasis: knowledge and information and defined knowledge narrowly to those concepts and ideas which are in me. Information is the manifestation of someone's knowledge.

Information as a manifestation is encoded using "language" which is created and learnt via a social collaborative process. Within any language, we use extensively "handles" to represent constructs. However, these handles, while in many situations are self evidence, can cause problems in communication because they may not map to the similar internal world views or they may be overloaded and the context of use was not clear in the communication.

While everyone will have constructed different internal world views, there are huge similarity among these individually constructed internal world views because the process of creating them are basically similar because we live in a coherent world. Differences in internal world views are modified (lessened usually ) due to conversations or intellectual exchanges in our daily activities.

Hence, there is some intrinsic connectedness in information due to the nature of the information as well as the way the information is based.

Due to the advent of communication and digital technology, human beings are building another layer of connectedness on the information, via explicit hyperlinks, metadata efforts, through aggregators (search engines are a major ) and recently tagging and tag clouds. I have also examined the use of this additional connectedness through the lens of information management.

I hold a conservative view that there is a gap between connectedness and knowledge. The increasing amount of additional connectedness does not translate automatically to imply our society is a "learning society".

As this series was started by inspiration of the debate between Stephen Downes and George Siemens, I will to conclude by looking at the same problem they were focused on too.

How has my view influenced the way I see how people learn?

"Learning" is an effort. Learners have to exercise a willingness in order to achieve learning. There is accidental learning - but accidental indeed. Most of our learning is the result of organising our experience so that the experience may be applied to different situation later in life.

Manipulation of information is NOT learning. The skill to manipulation information is an important skill. But having manipulated a lot of information on a subject does not automatically make one an expert in that domain. Librarians are librarians and they are not Physicists or Chemist because they have moved books on Physics or Chemistry.

To transfer information across the external world (not me) into our internal world view (me), we need to be able to interpreter the information via the language in which the information is based. Language has huge implicit assumption that the handles in the information are referring to similar internal world views. Without the common similarity of world views of the information author and the reader, the message does not get across. We learn and process information selectively. Those information which have no similar or matching part in our internal world view are not understood (and hence remain unavailable for future use) or simply ignored. This statement does not contradict "suspense of disbelief".

To enter into a new subject domain, it is important to progressively build up the internal world views shared by most of the participants in the subject domain.

Reading is NOT the only way to transform information into one's knowledge. (Reading may not be the most efficient way as well!) Knowledge can be acquired by using information to organise an appropriate experience, "learn by doing". Knowledge is created by an individual's effort to test the reaction of the world (scientific methods). New understanding can result from deep self reflection (philosophers).

The vast connectedness from the current technology bloom has provided us easy access to a huge amount of information previously impossible. The fundamental way human learns does not change because there are more information available suddenly . The way human can make a living may change and hence we may need to learn or develop new skills. We may also develop new skills in order to find, select and assimilate information. "Learning" is still an effort only the learner can exert.

Too little knowledge is definitely bad in terms of future survival, too much information may be a curse.

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