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 know?” 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 be 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 development of such insights. Thereby, if I do not see an 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 I 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?

5 replies
  1. Arshia Soltani
    Arshia Soltani says:

    Great story and interesting method of evaluation. But I’m keen to understand why you’ve chosen to “dance” to a “subtle rhythm” of knowledge. Why that description? Why not for instance dancing to the loud, thrilling, abstract music of knowledge?

    All the best,

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      Great comment Arshia, I removed the word subtle from the title and let rhythm of knowledge be there without a descriptor, cause as you said it could be loud, thrilling or in some cases very subtle! Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Andrey Naumenko
    Andrey Naumenko says:

    Dear Arash,

    It is nice to discover your web site. You have touched an interesting subject and shared a nice observation that makes practical sense.

    However, in your defined context I would put “And so what?” as the second question, instead of “What can I do now?”.

    This more general question covers more of possibe meanings of the received information. And in particular, it covers the case of “absorbing memorizable chunks of information” that you seem to underrate.

    Many things that can be learned do not assume any particular action to be taken or any change to be triggered in the learner’s environment. Learning them is the only change. For example, one may learn sophisticated math methods and structures in a university and never use them in practice; moreover, he/she may simply forget them just within a year after learning. Nevertheless, it would be a useful learning experience by itself, because it trains the brain capacity to work with sophisticated structures and to do it in a structured way. This is a skill that may be used in practical actions one day, but without any relation to the math that helped to develop it.

    Does this make sense to you? Or, shall I rather ask, are you now able to answer the two questions (where the second one is: “And so what?” 🙂 ? Well, as you may have noticed, the answer to this question may easily be: “Nothing special.”, and it may still be a useful learning experience.

    Best regards,

    Andrey

    Reply
    • admin
      admin says:

      Dear Andrey,

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and your comments. I enjoyed reading from you, very thought provoking as usual.

      After receiving your feedback and some further thoughts, I modified the entry. I hope you come back and have a look at the blog and let me know what you think.

      Thanks,
      Arash

      Reply
      • Andrey Naumenko
        Andrey Naumenko says:

        Dear Arash,

        Thank you very much for taking my comment seriously. I like the new version of your post more than the previous one. Now, not only you have kept the practical value that was transmitted by the first version, but also you have explored the concepts even deeper, replying to the concern that I had. This new version better reflects implicit and subtle meanings of information that surrounds us in our everyday life experience.

        I am glad to see your ideas published and attracting interest of the motivated audience! I wish you a lot of inspiration and useful feedback from the readers.

        Best regards,

        Andrey

        Reply

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