#PLENK2010 Knowledge is for Acting; Schooling is for Development

Premise: Knowledge Enables Acting, While Schooling Leads Development

  1. The ability to act in specific contexts is limited by one’s capabilities and by one’s ability to acquire knowledge that is an appropriate fit to that context.
  2. Schooling is not about acting in specific situations, but is about developing capabilities along a specified developmental trajectory as a foundation for future action.

In light of this weeks discussion of PLE in the classroom I will restate my view that we should make a distinction between learning and knowledge on one hand and development and capabilities on the other and the differing purpose served by each.

Learning and knowledge are for acting in specific contexts. Useful knowledge is highly linked to the situations for which it is devised and it makes no sense to attempt to acquire that knowledge before you are in the situation.  Inevitably, the knowledge gained in this way will not be a good fit for the situation.  Learning and knowledge is therefore inherently tied to acting and is a lifelong need.  Knowledge, to be useful, must be fit to the contexts where it is used.

Schooling is for the development of human capabilities. Using language, calculating, participating in debates, discussing important cultural topics, engaging in scientific experimentation, etc. . . .; these are all capabilities that schooling should develop in students.  We know what they look like beforehand, we know of processes to build these capabilities and we can assess successfully acquired capabilities.  Yes, studens will need to acquire specific knowledge to complete the actions specified by our assessments and classroom activities, but that knowledge will be incidental to the assessment or activity.  Using the capability in new situations will require different knowledge (even if it is only slightly different) every time.  My point is that assessing a students capability and developmental trajectory makes sense.  Assessing the knowledge he/she has acquired does not, because that knowledge will not be relevant to the student’s future; although their developmental trajectory will be highly relevant.

Knowledge is important for acting and PLEs are needed.  From birth, until we take our final breath, we need to acquire knowledge in an ongoing manner.  PLEs should be part of schooling because their development is an important capability. Likewise George’s (4) student centered items in this list are (I believe) about capabilities not knowledges.  The problems come when we mistakenly take knowledge as the reason for schooling instead of capability development.  It is usually not particularly hard to acquire the knowledge we need in any given circumstance if we already posses the requisite capabilities.  Unfortunately, most educational assessments are oriented toward measuring knowledge when they should measure capabilities and the developmental trajectory the student is following.  If they would do that, they would be a much better guide for teacher’s practices.