Performance Support and Connectionism

Jay Cross, Informal Learning Blog, Oct 31, 2007
Commentary by Stephen Downes

OK, I need to clarify what I think has become a confusion. People like George Siemens and Jay Cross and others are talking about "knowledge that's stored outside your head". This is an incorrct depiction of knowledge, one that perpetuates the idea that knowdge is atomic, like 'facts', that can be moved and stored, as though it were some sort of object. We can see how ridiculous this picture is when we ask how we can 'know' something that is not 'in our head'. We are being asked to create some sort of elaborate fiction here.

In order to understand how knowledge works with complex tools, it is helpful to consider how knowledge works with simple tools. Consider, for example, the knowledge that "Stephen is 6 feet tall." This is knowledge that is 'stored' in the measurement device. But of course, the knowledge does not exist until a person actually uses the measuring device. The 'knowledge', properly so-called, resides in both the tool and the person doing the measuring. It would not exist without either. In the same way, knowledge provided to us by the GPS, the social network, or any of these 'outboard devices', exists, not as objects to be moved about, but as a distributed series of connections between ourselves and these devices. The tools contain 'facts' and 'data' and 'measurement' but the 'knowledge' doesn't exist until it is recognized and interpreted (which is why 'learning' is not accomplished by remembering the 'facts' stored in such machines, but rather, in the skills of recognition and interpretation).
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