I was reading a post by Peter Isackson on the Learning Circuits blog, called Saving Knowing from Imminent Execution In the final paragraph, Peter mentions that deep learning occurs when knowledge is formalized. This led me to some tangential thoughts about learning. In school, essay tests are sometimes used to see how students have synthesized what they have learned. In adult learning, the ability to transfer knowledge is an indication that deep learning has occurred. (Note that some schools, particularly Montessori schools, have older children show/teach younger children.)
My own experience is that teaching a subject, or being a consultant on a subject, does require me to process knowledge more fully — even more than being able to demonstrate the skill or execute the task.This is formalizing knowledge in the sense that the information must be digested and organized. For me personally, to teach a topic also requires a broad understanding of concepts and context.
Like Peter and Clark, I believe that the distinction between “knowing” and “doing” is a false dichotomy. I propose that there is a cycle:
As preparation for doing, this might be as simple as “observing the master.” But growth in knowledge continues throughout the rest of the cycle.
There is a range of skill from beginner to expert. For many things, this progress requires years of both formal study and practice (for example, medicine).
The essence of teaching is passing on the skills and knowledge. But the best teachers learn even more in this phase, synthesizing others’ expertise as well as their own experience and the experience of the “students”.
Is “learning to draw a straight line” a part of “knowing” or “doing”? I think it must be both. In adult learning, I believe there is little that can be categorized as fully one or the other.
How does all of this relate to formal vs. informal learning? There seems to be some thought that
Knowing = what formal learning emphasizes = ineffective
Doing = what informal learning emphasizes = effective
I don’t believe that this is true. I don’t know anyone who is actually working on informal learning that believes it either. Informal learning can and does encompass both knowing and doing. Formal learning can, too. Good instructional design and good teaching need to consider the whole cycle.