Tuesday, April 11, 2006


This is a great article

How Knowledge Helps

"Knowledge is Good." So read the motto of the mythical Faber College in the 1978 movie, Animal House. Those of use who work in education would agree, even if we were unable to express ourselves so eloquently. But why, exactly, is knowledge good? When I've discussed this question with teachers, many have used the metaphor "It's grist for the mill." That is, the goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills such as thinking critically. Knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.

It's true that knowledge gives students something to think about, but a reading of the research literature from cognitive science shows that knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: It actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more-the rich get richer. In addition, factual knowledge enhances cognitive processes like problem solving and reasoning. The richer the knowledge base, the more smoothly and effectively these cognitive processes-the very ones that teachers target-operate. So, the more knowledge students accumulate, the smarter they become. We'll begin by exploring how knowledge brings more knowledge and then turn to how knowledge improves the quality and speed of thinking

This passage helps to explain why group problem-solving is so ineffective and why group brainstorming does not work.

A considerable body of research shows that people get better at drawing analogies as they gain experience in a domain. Whereas novices focus on the surface features of a problem, those with more knowledge focus on the underlying structure of a problem. For example, in a classic experiment Michelene Chi and her colleagues (Chi, Feltovich, and Glaser, 1981) asked physics novices and experts to sort physics problems into categories. The novices sorted by the surface features of a problem-whether the problem described springs, an inclined plane, and so on. The experts, however, sorted the problems based on the physical law needed to solve it (e.g., conservation of energy). Experts don't just know more than novices-they actually see problems differently. For many problems, the expert does not need to reason, but rather, can rely on memory of prior solutions.

This also clarifies why Knowledge Management initiatives seem fated to disappoint or doomed to fail. They are chasing a chimera. At their core they seek to separate human knowledge from the human mind.

As the article spells out, knowledge is more than discrete bits of information stored in the brain. It is much more complex than that: Experts are more than people with big mental warehouses. Bits and digital warehouses, however, are the only model Knowledge Management as to offer. The industry is inextricably tied to hardware, programs and systems.

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