Posted on 8:31am Friday 25th Mar 2011
Knowledge, Understanding, and Application.
When I first became a Police Officer and went off to training school there were a large number of legal definitions we had learn off by heart. Every Monday morning the Sergeant would test us by making us individually, formally recite then to the class while standing at our desk. I can still recall almost all of them and it was now over 40 years ago that I learnt them. As learning ‘moved forward’ it became apparent that academics felt that learning off by heart was not the way forward, because folk needed to ‘understand’ what they had learnt, not just know it and recite it. How wrong that is.
This week my 8 years old granddaughter has been starting her day with us, because her mummy has been starting work really early. On Monday she asked if I would help her with her maths homework, so being a good granddad I sat up at the table at very early hour to do fractions. As we worked our way down the sheet of questions Emily could work out the answers, she needed someone to encourage, which I was happy to do, but when I asked questions like what is 7 times by 7 she had a very convoluted route to find the answer. 10 times 7 equals 70, 3 times 7 equals 21. 70 minus 21 equals 49. What a difficult route to something that really is simple. It seems she was not taught to recite her tables so ‘I don’t know them grandad!’
I learnt my times tables off by heart and just know that 7 time 7 equal 49. The knowledge is that 7 times 7 equals 49, the very practical application is that if you buy 7 items costing 7 pence each how much change will I get if I give the shopkeeper a one pound coin.
What has all this to do with creating learning? Well I strongly believe that in design work and learning delivery there has to be a place for plain straight forward knowledge where appropriate, because that will provide the foundation to go on a build understanding, comprehension and application of that knowledge. The Police Service went right away from learning legal definitions by heart in favour of just understanding them. I really do not believe that you can understand something you don’t know! In many cases sound knowledge provides that solid foundation on which you can build wonderful understanding and go from there to apply that knowledge to the situation you want to use it in. Once you have solid foundations you can build a small bungalow or a mansion, it is your choice as the designer and as the learner, but if the foundations are shaky the learning that follows will not be as assured as it could be, and will all come tumbling down. Someone once told me that knowledge is power.
There really is a place for learning off by heart!