One thing that strikes me as I teach people about moving around the web is how much we privilege remembering over other forms of knowing.
This has gotten me thinking about types of knowledge and how and why we value them, and how they link to remembering as a form of knowing. So, I’ve done a short analysis of what I think is going on as a way of explaining why this privileging might occur.
Let’s start with three common forms of knowledge — declarative, procedural and conditional — and take them apart a bit.
Here’s a basic representation:
||Facts, information, descriptions, principles
||Actions,* skills, performance, know-how, things, doing
||Thought, thinking, consideration,
|What is evaluated
In my observation and experience, most Aussies rank ‘knowing how’ at the top of a hierarchy of knowing. This isn’t really surprising, as ‘knowing how’ to do stuff is of great value to us: we see ourselves as practical people, as people who can fix things, as people who are problem-solvers with a can-do attitude. And ‘knowing how‘ to do stuff means all those things I’ve pulled out in the above table: remembering steps, using skills to complete a task, and producing a measurable, observable performance that evaluates circumstances.
A further, more general, explanation could also be that procedural knowledge is perceived by most people as the most imperative and useful for web purposes: “I just need to know how to make it work, before I gather too much information about what it is and the principles that underlie its function, and before I think about why I might want to use it.”
‘Knowing how’ to do stuff is thus seen as a right and good thing, and therefore something that is assigned a price above that given to the declarative and conditional ways of knowing.
But it is the cognitive form of remembering that is of interest to me in this post, because when people ask me about their web travails, “How do I do X?” and I respond, “I don’t remember … I know that you can do it, though, just let me have a quick look,” I’m often challenging their assumptions about the primacy of procedural knowledge. And giving a declarative answer to a procedural question makes many people uncomfortable because, as I’m arguing here, the ‘doing’ of a thing is valued more highly than is either understanding why you might do it, or having facts about it in the first place.
It’s also surely the case that ‘doing stuff’ tends to yield more tangible and measurable products (which are relatively easy to evaluate) than does thinking about stuff or identifying principles (which are harder to evaluate). Which is not to say that ‘knowing how’ is unimportant or irrelevant in. But it is to say that an approach to knowledge that privileges one form of knowing over others prevents us from bringing together all the ways of knowing into an attitude that could, quite frankly, help us learn quicker and more deeply, no matter the context.
*Here I’m thinking of ‘actions’ along the lines of Aristotle’s praxis.