The Knowledge and Learning Transfer Problem

Charles Jennings, Workplace Performance, May 03, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Charles Jennings is right at the outset of this post. "Learning takes place in our heads. We alone make it happen... The same could be said of the phrase ‘knowledge transfer’. We can’t and don’t transfer knowledge between people." Quite so. But then he says, "We transfer information.... We can share information in the form of data and our own insights." But if the idea of the transfer of knowledge is a fiction, so is the idea of the transfer of information. How do we know this? Because what counts as information depends on the receiver. Any artifact - a printed page, a thermometer, an old woman saying "Beware the Ides of March" - any artifact becomes information only if it is recognized as such by the receiver. And recognition is a property of the person, not the artifact. This, of course, changes the nature of what we are doing when we design learning. We don't ask, "how can I transfer information to people?" We ask, "what would count as information to this person?" and then arrange our artifacts accordingly.

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