Being Knowledgeable

One of the ten attributes of the ideal learner in the IB Learner Profile is to be knowledgeable. Maybe of all of them this is the one which seems most clearly to connect to TOK, although many would argue that all attributes have a special connection with TOK or even that it is in and through TOK that the Learner Profile attributes are most fully realised. Be that as it may, one could also say that for many students, teachers and schools the Learner Profile is just a set of words which have very little influence or relevance to the ethos, objectives, focus and the quality of learning in their particular school. Whether this is the case or not, in my experience very little time is (can be) spent to explore the nature of each attribute and how one may integrate them in the day to day workings of a school, I hope my brief musings of the nature of knowledgeability may help a little.

To be knowledgeable in the context of the IB is of course more than simply, ‘knowing a lot about ‘x’ or ‘y’, although there is no doubt that to be an expert in any area does mean to have relevant and detailed knowledge of it at one’s fingertips and the wherewithal to know how to apply it. For the IB and particularly in the context of TOK, it is also to be able to have some understanding of the nature of knowledge, how it is produced, acquired and applied. This is of course primarily achieved through TOK lessons and the exploration of TOK issues within lessons in other subjects but I wonder whether being knowledgeable is also something one can develop independently. I wondered whether one can break down the ways in which one can be knowledgeable and maybe highlight the many ways in which this attribute can be experienced and used and, as a result, increase one’s grasp of the many-faceted sides and layers of knowing.

The simplest and most obvious answer to the challenge of developing knowledgeability seems to me to identify the best method for testing and deepening existing knowledge. TOK thrives through asking questions; in fact, I always say that a good TOK lesson should leave you with more questions than answers on the specific issue which has been explored. If this is so the key seems to be to identify the questions which will help the learner determine how knowledgeable they really are about a particular piece of knowledge.

Everyone is of course familiar with the distinction between knowing that and knowing how. Knowing that usually refers to the ability to identify and accept something as a fact, e.g. Paris is commonly accepted to be the capital of France. This type of knowledge could be said to be by and large superficial although very useful in many contexts, whereas knowing how clearly requires the skill to apply the knowledge acquired in the most effective and appropriate way. This basic distinction already suggests that to be knowledgeable is more than simply being able to regurgitate a large number of facts.

If one simply continues to explore a piece of knowledge using question adverbs it may provide a quick and easy way of assessing the quality of one’s learning. For example, knowing who, could refer to a simple fact as in who did this or said that etc… but it may also be used in a more sophisticated way such as, knowing who might be better at this task or that task, who might make a better friend, who is a more reliable partner in a science experiment and so on and so forth. Asking who in this way challenges us to deepen our understanding of individuals and the kind of persons they are as well as increasing the quality of knowledge one began with. One could continue this process using other question adverbs such as where, why, when, what if, to what extent…  In this way a piece of knowledge can be explored from a wide range of angles and perspectives and hopefully will be experienced in a more thorough and sophisticated way.

Clearly the process of becoming more knowledgeable has strong connections with other Learner Profile attributes such as being an inquirer, a thinker, open-minded, a risk taker but the strongest connection must be with the ability of being a reflective learner; someone who takes time to analyse what they think they already know. You want to be more knowledgeable? One possible answer seems to be: never stop asking as wide a range of questions as possible in order challenge the quality and depth of acquired knowledge, and never be satisfied with answers.

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