The Lure of the One True System

Robinson Meyer, Source, Sept 19, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Every few years, it seems, someone comes up with the same great idea: if only everything were put into one over-arching system - learning objects, ontologies, competencies, you name it. All knowledge could be organized and it would be easy to keep track of exactly who knows what (just yesterday, in fact, we had a bunch of people talking about having a central registry for verbs, as though there could be such a thing). It's not going to happen. The idea dates back to the Encyclopedists of mid-18th century France, led by Denis Diderot, and as this article reports, surfaced again in the 1960s with Xanadu. "Creating an internal system of perfect knowledge, period, is impossible. Everything that people know is constantly being edited, augmented, improved, iterated on, and folded into systems anew." In the design of any educational system, you have to make room for people to know different (and contradictory) things, use words differently, and to create their own knowledge their own way. Not because it's better. But because that's how knowledge works.

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