Experience + Education + Time + Reflection = Knowledge: Understanding the Formula for Knowledge

The newest baby in the physical begins life with urges, desires, but must learn everything, and along the way discovers a fact as incontrovertible as the rising sun, knowledge requires effort.  From the desire to be dry instead of wet, the baby cries.  From a desire for food, the baby cries.  Thus, physical life begins.  Muir (1930) makes clear that “Thought is matter; thought rules the world.  Thinking is intelligence (knowledge) at work.”  Please keep in mind, this topic continues to be fiercely debated and time does not allow a full exploration of each nuance; however, from seminal thinkers the following attempts to simplify the debate and showcases why the formula for building knowledge is the way portrayed:

Experience + Education + Time + Reflection = Knowledge

Returning to the baby analogy, the baby experiences light, but cannot describe why their eyes hurt from the light.  Thus, the first step in learning is an experience.  Through experience, choices are made, but the lack of understanding of consequences and communicating leads the baby to cry in frustration.  Thus, we can conclude that the first step in knowledge creation is experimenting and the resulting experience teaches preferences (Muir, 1930).  The movie “Teacher’s Pet” provides a quote solidifying the role of experience “… knowledge is the horse experience rides” (Perlberg, Seaton & Seaton, 1958).

Partanen, Kujala, Naatanen, Liitola, Sambeth, and Huotilainen (2013) conducted research on babies in the womb and stated that it is logical that the baby in the womb is learning a language.  Thus, providing the conclusion that the first education lessons are taught and experienced in the womb.  Upon birth, everything is being taught, smiling, laughing, crying, etc. are all lessons to be experienced with educational lessons.  For example, a baby responds to parental cues, smiling when they smile, laughing to make them laugh, crying when the parents are upset or angry.  All learned responses ever before a formal classroom.

Education and experience provide the first step in knowledge, often referred to as A Priori or knowledge gleaned from the world.  For example, the preference to have a dry diaper over a wet diaper.  No one has to explain to the baby that being wet is uncomfortable, creates pain, and is not desirable.  Epistemologists continue to debate whether education and experience are both involved in A Priori knowledge, but common sense tells the student that knowledge that we cannot describe where we learned it, is A Priori knowledge (Moser, 1987; Williamson, 2013).

The next type of knowledge is referred to as A Posteriori or knowledge that comes after a lesson (Moser, 1987; Williamson, 2013).  Consider the difference between hot and cold; how many babies touch something hot, get burned, have pain, and then learn the difference between hot and cold?  A Posteriori knowledge requires the next element in the formula for the full lesson to be taught, reflection.  A Posteriori knowledge requires time to reflect, and time and reflection bring more nuances of the hot/cold lesson to the enquiring mind.  For example, burns have blisters, scabs, pain, and so much more is experienced through the senses.  The smell of burning flesh stinks.  The redness, when touched brings back pain.  If the burn is severe enough, there are hospitals, nurses, doctors, and so much more added to the lesson regarding the difference between hot and cold.

The remaining types of knowledge are as follows, with a brief description:

  • Explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. A Priori and A Posteriori are opposite ways to learn, so too are explicit and tacit knowledge opposites.  Explicit knowledge is recorded data that can be accessed through books, videos, recordings, and is generally found in formal classrooms and upon the Internet (Collins, 2010; Smith, 2001).
  • Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that is both difficult to translate into words and difficult to separate from emotions. For example, music performed by a young performer may be technically correct, but the emotions are stripped from the performance.  A master musician, in concert, translates the emotions effortlessly, while remaining technically accurate, and is astute to the audience during the performance.  If a junior musician asks a master how to translate emotions, the master musician will find it very difficult to explain how but will encourage the junior to explore their own emotions and continue practicing (Collins, 2010; Reber, 1989; Smith, 2001).
  • The next two opposing classes of knowledge are propositional and non-propositional. These classes of knowledge are also referred to as descriptive or declarative knowledge (propositional) and procedural (non-propositional).  Propositional knowledge is the knowledge that is passed through declarative or descriptive statements, where the teacher knows something is true, but cannot adequately detail how they know it is true.  Propositional knowledge is generally found in closely held beliefs, religions, opinions, and is the embodiment of experiential knowledge.  Propositional knowledge is embodied in formal education (Klien, 1971).
  • Procedural knowledge is usable knowledge. For example, technical manuals are full of procedural knowledge or step-by-step instructions to complete a task.  Procedural knowledge is the only knowledge that can be cited in a court of law and is the fundamental description behind intellectual property.  Procedural knowledge can be bought, sold, traded, protected, the rights to procedural knowledge can be leased, all because of the usefulness of procedural knowledge.  Procedural knowledge is all about gaining experience (Corbett & Anderson, 1994; Willingham, Nissen, & Bullemer, 1989).

To gain knowledge in any of the classes identified, we have shown that experience and education need time and reflection to empower the knowledge gained into usefulness.  Each of the classes of knowledge has learning theories to aid the student to explore that class of knowledge and more fully draw out lessons for future use.  For example, procedural knowledge could be learned through cognitive learning theories (Atherton, 2009; 2010), through Pavlov’s classical learning theories (Clark, 2004; Bitterman, 2006), and many more theories.  There is no explicit right or wrong in knowledge attainment, the formula provided simply reflects the steps to creating knowledge, and each individual will reorder these ingredients based upon needs, desires, and personal application.  A master artist in sculpture might have a different order for their knowledge attainment than a master painter or musician; however, all the masters will be able to communicate due to their mastery, not the order they place the ingredients in knowledge attainment.  Key to the knowledge attainment formula provided is that learning never ceases.  Each experience provides new lessons that will require time and reflection to completely master, or attain.  Hence the need to know how knowledge is created and the importance of the formula for future experiences, formal and informal educational opportunities, and desires for new knowledge.

A final aspect of knowledge is that knowledge can be gained and lost (Howells, 1996).  A lack of choosing to learn or experience robs time and costs knowledge.  For example, the ability to read can be taught, but when not practiced, it becomes harder and harder until the ability to read is lost.  Understanding what is read, can be taught, but the harder reading becomes, the less the words are understood until all understanding in the written words has been lost.  Due to the nature of gains and losses in knowledge creation and retention, it behooves the individual to choose to be continually learning, experiencing and employing time and reflection to capture the available knowledge (Teece, 2000; Tough, 1979).

References

Atherton J. S. (2009) Learning and Teaching; Cognitive theories of learning [On-line] UK: Retrieved from: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/cognitive.html

Atherton, J. S. (2010, February 10). So what is Learning? Retrieved from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/whatlearn.html

Bitterman, M. E. (2006). Classical conditioning since Pavlov. Review of General Psychology, 10(4), 365-376. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.365

Clark, R. E. (2004). The Classical Origins of Pavlov’s Conditioning. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 39(4), 279-294.

Collins, H. (2010). Tacit and explicit knowledge. University of Chicago Press.

Corbett, A. T., & Anderson, J. R. (1994). Knowledge tracing: Modeling the acquisition of procedural knowledge. User modeling and user-adapted interaction, 4(4), 253-278.

Howells, J. (1996). Tacit knowledge. Technology analysis & strategic management, 8(2), 91-106.

Klein, P. D. (1971). A proposed definition of propositional knowledge. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(16), 471-482.

Moser, P. K. (Ed.). (1987). A priori knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Muir, L. J. (1930). The upward reach. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Press.

Partanen, E., Kujala, T., Naatanen, R., Liitola, A., Sambeth, A., & Huotilainen, M. (2013). Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(37), 15145-15150. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302159110

Perlberg, W., & Seaton, G. (Producers), & Seaton, G. (Director). (1958). Teacher’s pet [Motion picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures.

Reber, A. S. (1989). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 118(3), 219.

Smith, E. A. (2001). The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace. Journal of Knowledge Management, 5(4), 311-321.

Teece, D. J. (2000). Strategies for managing knowledge assets: the role of firm structure and industrial context. Long range planning, 33(1), 35-54.

Tough, A. (1979). Choosing to Learn.

Williamson, T. (2013). How deep is the distinction between A Priori and A Posteriori knowledge? The a priori in philosophy, 291.

Willingham, D. B., Nissen, M. J., & Bullemer, P. (1989). On the development of procedural knowledge. Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory, and cognition, 15(6), 1047.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.