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Thursday, February 26, 2015


Epistemology is one of those high-sounding words that has a much simpler meaning than the formal definitions you can find for it.  In layman's terms it simply means ways of knowing.

Many learning theorists have crafted conceptions of the way knowledge is acquired, stored, and used by us humanoid types.  Examples are Bruner, Bloom, and Erickson.  I won't try to compete with those folks intellectually (because they're WAY smarter than I am), but I do have my own view of the way knowledge gets packaged and used by us learners.

I believe we can think of knowledge in three categories:

  1. Remembered Stuff.  This is content we remember, like the multiplication tables, our favorite dessert, and our anniversary (well, some of us remember that one).
  2. Skills.  This is procedural knowledge like how to bake a cake, or drive a car, or solve a quadratic equation.
  3. Ways of Thinking.  This is the abstract application of knowledge that occurs when we craft solutions to problems new to us, when we make nuanced choices premised on costs-benefit analyses, when we make valued-based judgments, or when we interpret a piece of music.
A real-life example:  
  • Some golfers know the game inside and out.  They know and can talk ALL the technical components. They're good at the Remembered Stuff.  
  • Some golfers can really hit nice shots, but really don't know and can't tell you how the heck they do it. They've got the Skills part down pretty well.
  • Some golfers can SCORE! - with a golf club or they can do it with a hockey stick, in fair weather or poor, on great courses or salt licks.  They may not know the rules and may not be able to replicate performance, but they've got that Ways of Thinking part down.
Ideally, we push ourselves to growth in all three areas, in a very intentional and disciplined way.  That occurs best when we're working and learning with others of similar aspiration, and under the guidance of mentors/teachers/coaches who have mastered all three categories of knowledge.

I would call those folks epistemological wizards.  Thankfully, I've been blessed to know and learn from several of those characters.

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