Is Knowledge Enough?

There seems to be increasing rhetoric around returning to the basics in education and focusing on the “easy” part of teaching which is having students recall information they have been told on tests. It is reasoned students must first know the information before they can use it. It is also reasoned if they know the information, they can use it elsewhere. These reasons are not reasonable… or at least there is far less evidence they are accurate than advocates believe.

What, then, should we ask students to do? I suggest as they are learning and as they are developing their knowledge, they also elaborate on it. Notice the timing I advocate. *As the students are developing their knowledge* they should have opportunities to:

  • Use what they are learning to perform new tasks
  • Describe the knowledge in different ways
  • Organize the knowledge
  • Generate new knowledge (remember new to the learner is still new)

they will build deeper connections to the knowledge. In many cases, they will recognize their understanding is inadequate which send them back to the original information.

Human knowledge is something in which context matters. There is something fun about winning trivia contests by showing off useless knowledge, and we can learn to satisfy our curiosities, but much that we learning is motivated by the need to solve problems. They may be pragmatic problems, they may be problems in which we decide we don’t know enough to solve, they may be problems that require creativity. In any case, they knowledge humans value most is that which we use.

Correctly answering questions on tests–as valuable and relevant as teachers think that is–is not really part of human learning.