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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

K is for knowledge

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” John Naisbitt

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is used to define the skills and experience we acquire in life. The term ‘knowledge’ can refer to a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or a theoretical or practical understanding of something. It can be implicit e.g. with practical skills or expertise or explicit e.g. the theoretical understanding of a subject.

Knowledge can be acquired in different ways and from different sources, including experience/perception, reason, memory, observation, scientific inquiry, knowledge we acquire at school and through any other specific adult education/lifelong learning courses and through practice and learning from ours or other’s mistakes.

All the experiences in your life — from single conversations to your broader culture — shape the microscopic details of your brain. Neurally speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been. Your brain is a relentless shape-shifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry — and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast detailed patterns in your neural networks. Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target; it never reaches an end point.” David Eagleman

Knowledge is a concept with multiple meanings, it is a term used in everyday language but it is also a subject studied extensively.

Gnoseology is the name for the scientific study of knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek words ‘gnosis’ meaning ‘knowledge’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘word’ or ‘discourse’ in this instance.

The philosophical study of knowledge is called epistemology which comes from the Greek words ‘episteme’ and ‘logos’. ‘Episteme’ again meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘understanding’ or ‘acquaintance’, while ‘logos’ can be translated to mean ‘account’ or ‘argument’ or ‘reason’. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with theory of knowledge, i.e. asking questions such as "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "How do we know what we know ? etc...

Types of Knowledge:

Knowledge has been studied over the years and has been classified into different types of knowledge by different people ; some of whom believe that different types of knowledge take different levels of effort to achieve.

According to D R Krathwohl (A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 2002) knowledge can be categorized into four types:

(1) factual knowledge, (2) conceptual knowledge, (3) procedural knowledge, and (4) metacognitive knowledge. 

Factual Knowledge (Knowing about) (Also described as acquaintance knowledge, descriptive knowledge, propositional knowledge, declarative knowledge or constative knowledge)

Factual knowledge is concerned with definitions, the related vocabulary, subject specific information and the basic elements within any subject or domain.

This type of knowledge is about familiarity; with a person (e.g. "I know Fred Bloggs"), a place (e.g. "I know the city of Paris"), or a thing (e.g. "I know the book ‘In praise of Slow’ by Carl Honoré") and is obtained through perceptual experience. It is a type of knowledge where a person can remember, recognize, or state information in his or her own words.

Factual knowledge is learned through exposure and repetition and requires memory or at least knowing where to look to retrieve the information we require when we need it (i.e. in books, online, or knowing a person ‘who knows’ ).

Conceptual knowledge (Knowing that) (Also described as principle or ‘relational’ knowledge) occurs when a person understands the interrelationships and/or functions between ideas or concepts that make up a larger structure of information and they can use this understanding to predict, explain or control circumstances. i.e. understanding that facts can be classified and organised in meaningful ways and how information is organized or classified.

Concepts can then be further divided into ‘concrete concepts’ (e.g. the ability to classify new items by their physical attributes; colour, shape etc) or’defined’ categories.(e.g. the ability to use a set of characteristics in order to classify an idea).

Procedural knowledge: (Skills) (Knowing how) (Also described as practical knowledge, imperative knowledge, or performative knowledge) is the knowledge used when performing a task. Procedural knowledge refers to understanding the order or procedure in which certain steps should be taken which is critical when working towards a goal, and converts the ‘what’ into ‘how.

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” Anton Chekhov

Procedural knowledge involves knowledge of subject-specific skills, techniques and methods, and criteria for deciding when to use the right procedures.

It is not enough to just know how things work in theory (cognitively) we need to take action and do them in practice (physically) paying close attention to both the process and outcome.

When we are 100% present, listening to our body, our mind and our gut (using all our senses) we will gain information through multiple feedback loops, and those loops of information help direct our understanding and therefore our future actions and we improve and gain confidence at a task.

Metacognitive knowledge refers to the awareness individuals possess about themselves and other people as cognitive processors and about different approaches that can be used for learning and problem solving and the demands of a particular learning task.

We are all unique and come from complex backgrounds and have different perspectives. The more people involved, the greater the level of complexity so it is important to be sensitive to information coming in from a variety of sources (words, body language, posture, cultural background, etc etc ) i.e. paying attention to contextual clues as the task in hand as it unfolds

Why is knowledge important?

“Self-confidence results, first, from exact knowledge; second, the ability to impart that knowledge.” Napoleon Hill

Gaining knowledge gives us confidence and will afford us more opportunities in life. The more knowledge we acquire, the more informed, skilled and confident we become in anything we attempt and further experience provides us with further knowledge that reinforces our confidence again.

It is necessary to take action and try new things to develop a growth mindset. Mental challenges cause an ‘adaptive response’ to take place in the brain, just like a muscle. Passive activities e.g. watching television do not stimulate or build connections; we need to be actively involved rather than passive observers.

Changes in the brain will be more significant if we’re motivated and aware of the reason for learning (our ‘why’) because we then tend to try harder and are able to focus more on the task. To make chemical and physical changes in our brains, we need to pay attention. Our ‘attention density’ (the amount of attention we pay to a particular experience over a specific time) increases as we increase our concentration on a specific idea. This high attention density is what leads to long-term behavioural change.

Your brain loves habits because they are simple, structured, well-known, energy efficient, quick, and automatic.” Stan Jacobs

Knowledge enhances our thinking in two ways. It helps us solve problems by freeing up space in our working memory and it helps us circumvent thinking. Through knowledge, repetition, routine and context our actions or thought processes can become ‘hardwired’ so we don’t need to give them much conscious thought which is why we can often perform tasks on ‘automatic pilot’.

“Knowledge is power. And you need power in this world. You need as many advantages as you can get.” Ellen DeGeneres

It is through knowledge and education that we can enable change in ourselves and the world for the better

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

Knowledge benefits individuals and in turn benefits society as a whole.

The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values” William Inge

We gain in wisdom when we know how to use the knowledge we possess. It is relatively easy to gain knowledge but it is what we do with that knowledge that counts. Knowledge without action is worth nothing or at best can be viewed as inherent potential.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we know more than we do about something and it is then we are more likely to make mistakes or mislead others

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.” Alfred North Whitehead

How do we attain knowledge?

“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.” Denis Diderot

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason”. Immanuel Kant

Once we have attained knowledge it is important that we continue to use and apply that knowledge or the information will not be accessible when future opportunities present themselves.

“Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” Proverb

What is the highest form of knowledge ?

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another's world”. Plato

Something to consider :

"If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning."

Carl Rogers

Some questions and quotes to think about/or discuss below:

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin

What opportunities do you have for Lifelong learning ?

As knowledge increases, wonder deepens.” Charles Morgan

How can you apply the knowledge that you acquire ?

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.

Carl Rogers

How can you share your knowledge with others ?

Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.” Peter Senge

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here is a link to get you started:

“Knowledge is power but enthusiasm pulls the switch.” Anonymous

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