Welcome to the third part of Learning to Learn. In Part 2 you learned
a simple trick to help you produce a list of things you didn't know.
This is your list of tasks and now you have it you are well on your
way to becoming task not time oriented.
Before we move on to consider how to best use your task list as a means
to learn it's time to be clear about what we mean by "knowledge"
and how this differs from "data" and something else called
"information". While we're at it we also have to get to
grips with this difficult stuff known as "understanding".
Some terms mean different things
The trouble with these terms is that different people use different
definitions of each and, what is even more confusing, are happy
to change their usage at will. For example, it is quite common for
the word "knowledge" to be defined as "the remembering
of previously learned material". In fact, the Oxford English
Dictionary isn't clear either and is happy to include definitions
of knowledge ranging from
"Acquaintance with a fact or facts"
"Understanding of a branch of learning"
which I think you will agree are poles apart in terms of the implied
depth of understanding. I would not presume to insist that only
the definitions used here in this website are correct but I do warn
you that unless you are aware that "knowledge" and "understanding"
mean different things to different folks, you might get a touch
Data, information and knowledge
So with that health warning out of the way, here's a nice quote
from two guys called Cliff Stoll and Gary Schubert:
"Data is not information,
Information is not knowledge,
Knowledge is not understanding,
Understanding is not wisdom."
Which is a very concise way of saying that just because you know some
facts doesn't mean you are informed about a topic. Similarly being informed
does not make you knowledgeable. However, although Stoll & Schubert
certainly have a valid point by saying what they are not, these concepts
are, most definitely, connected in some way and that is what I would
like to take a little of your time explore.
At the very least be informed
Allow me to illustrate this difference with a true story which you
can verify anytime you happen to be in the great English City of
Liverpool. The Walker Art Gallery in the city centre was built at
the expense of Sir Andrew Barclay Walker in 1877. It is acknowledged
the finest British art gallery outside London, and among the top
twenty in the world. At least that's what it says in their brochure.
Many years ago I was working in Liverpool and spent many happy
lunchtimes in the Walker Gallery which has, either side of the main
entrance, two magnificent statues, one of Raphael and one of Michelangelo.
One day as I passed the statue of Michelangelo Buonarroti one of
the greatest artists of all time, a man whose name has become synonymous
with the word "masterpiece", the creator of works of sublime beauty
that express the full breadth of the human condition, my eye was
drawn to the inscription on the plinth. As it happens, I had a camera
with me and took the, rather poor, picture above just in case the
governors of the gallery ever noticed the mistake and had it corrected.
had to reduce the picture quite a bit to fit it on this page which
makes the inscription impossible to read but here it is full size
and sharpened up a bit.
Hang on, what does it say?.....Whoa! ..... double Whoa!! So who's
this Mikey Angelo bloke then?
Now don't get me wrong, it's a very fine statue and the Walker
Art Gallery is a very fine art gallery and Liverpool is a very fine
city and scousers are people as well but someone's dropped a bit
of a brick here and it looks like I'm the only one who's spotted
it. Leastways if the Gallery have they're keeping awful quiet.
Anyway, back to the point I'm trying to make. It seems to me that
the chap who carved out the name was working on verbal instructions
and knew that there was some famous old artist called Michelangelo
but knew nothing about art or, for that matter, Italy. He knew that
the name "Michael" was possible because that is also a
name common in England and "Angelo" certainly sounds Italian.
So he adds two and two and makes five.
He has some facts, for all we know he had lots and lots of them,
but he hadn't collected and organised them into something useful.
In his case the proverb "A little knowledge is a dangerous
thing" gets real meaning. If he had no knowledge at all he
might have asked the architect to write it down and I would have
lost a story I've dined out on for 20 years. On the other hand,
maybe he did. more>
Turning data into information
Data, or facts, are not just useful, they are the cornerstone of
our lives, our whole civilisation. We would be nowhere without them
so they are clearly useful but not in isolation as the little story
about Mikey hopefully illustrates. But they are not knowledge, neither
do they signify understanding. On the other hand knowledge and understanding
would be nowhere without facts so there must be a connection of
some sort. Clearly then we have to do something with our facts which
adds value and produces something altogether different. This product
with added value is what we recognise as understanding. Got it?
So what can we do with facts that might add some value? Well, we
can do lots of things. We could bend, twist, invent, selectively
ignore and generally abuse them and get ourselves elected or edit
a tabloid newspaper. Or we could do something useful such as collecting
lots and lots, organising them and making connections between them.
If we do this we have clearly added some value.
By collecting and organising our facts we might say that we have created
"information" which is certainly a useful start and if our
had done a bit more of this he might have realised that something was
The ability to recognise patterns and make these connections appears
to be a particularly human trait and so it's no coincidence that
this has been one of the criteria used to define intelligence. More
recently we have used computers to help us do this more efficiently
and have coined the phrase "Information Technology" in
acknowledgment. Computers have no equal in helping us do all this
fact-organising, allowing us to make all kinds of useful connections,
producing this thing called information. But ultimately, even a
shed-load of "information" is of little use unless you
just want to impress your friends.
Turning information into knowledge
So, moving right along. Fact-gathering and information production
is OK but it's pointless if it's just "Information for information's
sake". We have to do something with it, we have to take our
information and use it to, for example, solve problems. By doing
this we have gained knowledge and, when we've done this enough times
we have the added value of something called experience which really
just allows us to do the application thing quicker because it's
the same or similar to a problem we've come across before. A kind
of short-cut which humans are good at and which we are just beginning
to get computers to do.
So that's Data-Information-Knowledge but what about this "understanding"
stuff? Well, knowledge is important but it wouldn't be possible
without a solid foundation of facts, all organised, cross-referenced
and stored neatly away ready to be brought out, buffed up and presented
as required. "Understanding", I would like to suggest,
is the sum of the bits and like all the best "sums of bits",
it is greater than all the bits summed. So you can't have understanding
without knowledge and you can't have knowledge without facts. Increasing
the facts at your disposal may not necessarily increase your knowledge
of a particular subject if they are not directly connected but it
will contribute to a greater understanding by allowing you to make
cross-connections with other areas of knowledge.
I think we'll stop this before I get lost.
There can be no doubt that facts are good but they do not equal
understanding. That can only come through knowledge. There is a
problem though and that is that it sometimes isn't always that easy
to tell the difference between someone who is just spouting large
chunks of memorised facts and trying to pass it off as knowledge
and someone who truly understands the topic. Knowledge and understanding
can only come through the work of applying information and that
takes time and effort. One of the functions of examinations is to
discover who has made the leap from facts to understanding via
knowledge so they can be rewarded.
It's now time to put it all into practice and come up with a practical
Don't kid yourself into thinking that because you can remember
a few facts that you have knowledge.
Data, information, knowledge and understanding are all different.
Data (facts) are important but how you use them is more important.
Knowledge comes from manipulating information to solve problems.
Understanding is the sum of it all.
Part 4 How to study
Lest I be accused of throwing stones in glass houses by my Liverpudlian
friends I did a little research on this and discovered that it was,
in fact, quite common in Britain in the 18th & 19th Centuries
to refer to Michelangelo as Michael Angelo. The reason, however,
appears to be, as I point out above, a concoction of assumption
layered on ignorance with the inevitable wrong conclusion. The only
difference being that it wasn't just the scousers who were at it.
Still, I haven't yet found another example so, until I do, I'll
continue to use it. As an aside, I contacted the curator of the
Walker Art Gallery for a comment. After some considerable delay,
presumeably to allow him time to make the trip from his office to
the front of the building and back plus a bit of reading-up, he
wrote a nice letter back informing me that the Mancs did it first