Thursday, 1 March 2012

Stephen Downes on Knowledge

This week's #change11 subject was "Knowledge" and from Stephen Downes himself. His preparation piece (Knowledge, Learning and Community) took us from the traditional model of knowledge (propositional or representative) towards building a model which is about the state of organisation of the neurons of the brain and our of bodies that results after our interactions with the world. This same definition was linked to how knowledge resides in the state of organisation in communities, and how language was also part of this picture, with the rules of language NOT being the rules of the knowledge:

Language follows learning and experience, is reflective of learning and experience, and does not constitute learning and experience. A sentence is like a picture: an abstraction, a snapshot, a moment, an artifice. It is not inherently true or false, does not inherently contain its own meaning. When we read, when we comprehend, a language, we do so by recognizing, and not by decoding.

These are my notes from the Wednesday sessions, with some comments in italics.

What is knowledge? A set of connections in a network. Knowledge IS the network

What is "knowing" ....
  • facts? 
  • laws? 
  • concept of a fact slips away once we analyse language used, once we analyse in any depth
Old: universals
  • rules 
  • categories
New: patterns
  • similarities
  • coherences
This view changes nature of knowledge; how we recognise, how we know.
  • How we perceive patterns of connectivity
    • Take the actual connections, and interpret them as a distinct whole
    • Take the distinct whole, and interpret as a set of connections
  • As Hume would say: our perception of a causal relationship between two events is more a matter of custom and habit than it is observation
  • knowledge as recognition, 
  • knowledge as emergence of patterns, 
  • knowledge as distributed representation.

Distributed representation - a set of connection between neurons = a pattern of connectivity.
Brain is a pattern matching machine; same network is used to remember different entities.

How did you learn that a photo was Nixon? You didn't - you learned it over time, repetition.
You are having an experience, it creates a set of connections, you have an experience and you create a similar set of connections, until this becomes the remembered knowledge.

  • Personal knowledge: the organisation of neurons
  • Public knowledge: the organisation of artifacts
They are different things, made of different things, but they are both networks. People confuse between personal and public knowledge; personal knowledge is not transferred public knowledge - things that make it public knowledge are different from what makes it personal knowledge.

What is learning?
  • creating personal knowledge
  • forming connections of sets of neurons
  • pattern recognition

Downes Theory of Pedagogy

To teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect
Personal learning 

Developing personal knowledge is more like exercising than like inputting, absorbing or remembering.

Paolo Friere's views on an act of knowing came to mind (from

"Maximally systematised knowing" could be interpreted as well established networks and the act of knowing achieved through synthesising, is the establishing of the networks in the learner.
Personal Learning Environment: a PLE is a tool intended to immerse yourself into the workings of a community. Physicist learns by being a physicist. PLE allows you to create, participate and engage in the community.

(More notes to come on the collaboration/cooperation distinction)

Openness - do not define it by the walls, openness is about flow, plasticity

We have homework! For Friday - create and present a learning artifact and think about it from the perspective of this theory.

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