In the first year of my doctoral studies, I wrote an article and submitted it for publication in a conference. My article was rejected by the conference scientific committee. One of the reviewers wrote that the reason why my article was not accepted was that after reading it, he was not able to answer the two following questions: What do I know now? And, what can I do now?
That rejection and that anonymous reviewer taught me one of the most important lessons I learned during my doctoral study. Even now, ten years later, I tend to repeat these two questions, whenever I read something, have a dialogue with someone, watch a movie or attend a seminar. These two questions give me a reality check when it comes to assessing whether I have learned something and make me more alert as I am going through some new concepts and ideas. Why is that so? The first question, “what do I know now?” checks whether I have received some information or assimilated a new piece of processed data, that can help us understand a phenomenon better. The second question, “what can I do now?” is about knowledge. Knowledge has organizing power. Once we convert information to knowledge, we are prompted to take action, to trigger a change, to take measures to do something. It’s like when we hear music and we dance automatically!
As a learner, I have noticed that there are two caveats that are worth mentioning. First, I always bear in mind that the transformation from information to knowledge is not instantaneous. Once we put the seeds in an incubator, we should attend to them on a regular basis before they sprout. Therefore, I know I should keep repeating the second question, stimulating my brain to keep looking for practical implications. In the same way that it may take a few listens, before we fall in love with and dance to a piece of music, that we were initially not fond of. Second, knowledge can emanate from a combination of various sources of information, some of which may be tacit, and thereby not easily detectable. For instance, reading and memorizing poetry or mastering and using a mathematical technique, may not easily be traceable in the practical insights we develop, but they may still count as crucial steps towards the development of such insights. Thereby, if I do not see immediate practicality in the information I am exposed to, I know it does not mean I should reject it. Similarly, if I invest time in assimilating some concepts or ideas and yet I do not seem to be able to map them onto a concrete application, I worry not and the role they play can be subtler than what I can possibly imagine.
As an educator, I ask my students to ask themselves these two questions as they are going through their studies. More importantly, I also ask them to challenge me when they are unable to answer the two questions during my courses and when we go through the course material. It does not mean I should answer the two questions for them. Rather, as a learning designer, I should help them in their process of seeking answers to the two questions. They may find it difficult and may find the wrong answers, but this exercise can orient them to a more proactive approach towards learning, and help them realize they are the ones responsible for acquiring the knowledge they need to align themselves with what life expects from them.
I sometimes feel that learning in the current educational system is becoming synonymous with absorbing memorizable chunks of information for the mere purpose of answer questions in a final exam. To me, True education is about striving for acquiring knowledge. Effective learning occurs only when what we know can manifest itself in our thoughts and actions, that’s when we start dancing to the rhythm of knowledge. As educators or learning designers, our responsibility is to steer ourselves onto the path of becoming knowledge-oriented and then, help the learners in their journeys, first and foremost, by embodying the properties we wish to see in them. I hope after reading this short blog you can answer the following two questions: What do I know now? What can I do now?
Author: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor