Remembering and Learning

How we survive and function with this limited knowledge is one of the things that got me writing this paper. Specifically how current misconceptions could become the breakthrough thinking of the future.

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This paper focuses on the issues of technicality, definition and culture within the research work in general and the qualitative research world more specifically, that have repeatedly forced me to think and rethink, reflect and re-reflect on every thought, idea, position and evolving proposition that has crossed my mind since I started working towards becoming part of the ‘publishing researcher’s community’.

How do we come to know and what is the importance of knowing?

At one point in time, human’s thought the world was flat. They lived their lives according to that belief and the belief seemed to serve them well within the scope of their experiences. Certain things that they couldn’t explain was accepted as mysterious and life moved on. Then someone came around and deduced that the world could not be flat and that it was indeed spherical. This new perspective of the nature of the world explained some of the unexplainable things like things disappearing in the horizon though it raised a lot more questions about how people who were on the other side of the earth didn’t fall off or get sick from being upside all the time.

The point is, there is this suggestion that each human being will never know enough about himself/herself or the world to be able to explain everything, even if this information existed in the world. For each human being, there are areas in our understanding of the world where to us, the world is flat. How can we live with this gross ‘misconception’? How do we survive? … the same way the people did before they were told the world was round.

How we survive and function with this limited knowledge is one of the things that got me writing this paper. Specifically how current misconceptions could become the breakthrough thinking of the future.

We come to know through ‘experience’ and through ‘assimilated’ or ‘accommodated’ information.  With every new experience, our knowledge changes. How it changes could be described in relation to the existing content of our memories.

As we grow through life, we are constantly ‘learning’ to make decisions and to act on our decisions where appropriate to get desired outcomes. We hardly ever get desired outcomes probably because our ‘understanding’ of the components within the ‘environment’ system and the relationship between these components we wish to alter or manipulate are limited and often inconsistent with the decisions we are taking and results we desire. (this is to say that the decisions and actions could and probably would generate outcomes that are reproduce-able and this becomes part of our ‘knowledge’ of the ‘environment’  even if it’s based on a flat world understanding)

The desire to understand the environment enough to be able to make decisions that could drive actions that would control it effectively is, in my opinion, the basis of science. The great ‘cause and effect’.  And this approach has worked very well especially when dealing with non-human aspects of the environment. However the complexity of the decision making, experimenting, tool making and using, abstract symbolic communicating human being has all but rendered experimenting methods useless except in ‘well controlled experimental settings’ which reveal that under such conditions that could never exist in real life, this action at best causes this outcome or the two are at least are ‘significantly’ related.

The major criticism of the scientific method is the need to reduce what one is interested in investigating to a few, often one or two, variables that can be controlled. This ‘reductionism’  is what is seen as ‘unnatural’.  Some people believe, as do I, that everything is related to everything at some level. I also believe that though experimentation can reveal true relationships between variables under such conditions, the transferability of those relationships to other conditions more similar to natural conditions is always difficult due to the number of other variables at work.

However it is worth noting that in most situations even with the almost insurmountable number of variables at work, the resulting effect of the multitude of variables might result in an extremely reduced number of important relationships. This, I believe is the reason why statistically, patterns emerge even though the variables impacting on the phenomenon are much more.  Identifying these patterns is therefore a useful endeavor just as much as finding out why these patterns evolve or result from the variable interactions or how the variables interact to produce these patterns – predictability.

How then is one able to  ‘come to know’ enough to make decisions that can drive actions that will result in desired outcomes? That is a question about ‘learning’. To me learning is about improving our decision making abilities so that we can predict outcomes based on the decisions we make and the actions those decisions drive. When what we know affects our decision making/actions in this way, then the knowledge has become ‘our own’, it’s become ‘personal’.  The two central issues in this paper are – ‘how do we come to know?’ and ‘how does what we know come to influence our decision making or actions?’.

As already mentioned in previous paragraphs, we come to know through experience and assimilation and accommodation of new information. Yet, it seems that some of the things  ‘we know’ affect our decisions more than others even when the sphere of conditions or context appear similar. It appears to me that the saying, “tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn’ differentiates between forgetting, remembering and learning. I am going to make a leap here and say that learning is personalization of information. This therefore means the information has become knowledge through personal application or use.

Why do ‘remembering’ and ‘learning’ exist as two different things?

This is the fault of over-extended abstract symbolic communication. This language based communication allows two people to talk about experiences through representations. Representations that are alien to the experience and that require a shared interpretation/understanding which at best is not likely. It is therefore possible to have a wealth of information, meaningful, connected full of practical problem solving principles but when faced with a real life situation, is not used at all in decision making and actions. This abstract ‘knowledge’ in my own words is not ‘grounded’. Using words already within this paper, it has merely being remembered but it has not been learned. Using other educational jargon, has very low transferability.  Yet this sort of ‘knowledge’ is excellent for writing papers, presenting arguments and having discussions… what some people might refer to as theoretical applications. The person who possess this ‘knowledge’ is yet to find personally relevant practical use for it.

In education research, one could say the broad goals are to better understand how people learn and what actions one can take to make the process more efficient or effective. The methods we choose to ‘come to know’ is the main idea discussed in this paper.

So what happens when someone is ‘involved’ that helps the person move from ‘remembering’ to ‘learning’?

In the second last paragraph of the previous section the last sentence read “The person who possess this ‘knowledge’ is yet to find personally relevant practical use for it’.  Personally relevant practical uses are not generalize-able.  Phenomenological studies have repeatedly shown that what seemingly seems to possess a simple meaning and use often reveals very surprising interpretations and applications when viewed from the contextual perspective of various individuals.

[thoughts and ideas in the making]

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