Chapter 7: Knowledge and Learning

Learning is the way in which a person comes to know. Science is the work put into knowing that produces more reliable and trustworthy knowledge. The science of education is about the more focused ways of coming to know, and the ways these can be translated into effective teaching.

In this chapter we explore the nature of knowledge. We introduce a number of different ways of knowing and discuss the kinds of learning and education that typically come with these ways of knowing.

One cluster of ways of knowing we call ‘committed knowledge’. These ways of knowing operate as though they are the best way of knowing, at least for a particular purpose. The knowledge you have or create in these ways, its knowledge makers believe, is as close to the ‘truth’ as you can get. Religious truths, for instance, are based on the idea that ultimate and absolute knowledge comes from a divine creator of the universe. Empirical truths derive from experimentation and observation, which produce hard-to-dispute ‘facts’. Rationalist truths are the product of the capacity of human reason to make sense of the world. Canonical truths base themselves in bodies of knowledge and important writings.

Another set of ways of knowing we call ‘knowledge relativism’. Epistemological or cultural relativism is the view that no way of knowing should claim itself to be superior to any other. Relativism views knowledge as a matter of perspective in a cultural context, such that no culture can claim superiority over any other. Postmodernism has aimed to unsettle the convictions of modern knowledge – the pretensions to truth of factual science, the conceit of Western rationality, and the one-sidedness of the Western canon. It seeks to value previously marginalised perspectives and ways of knowing, and also popular or media cultures that may have been regarded with disdain by powerful or elite knowledge makers.

We want to suggest an approach to the question of knowing and learning that draws on the best of committed knowledge frameworks and knowledge relativism, and also goes one step further. People doing science, as well as learners who are more flexible and effective in their learning, draw on a variety of purposeful ways to know. We call these ‘knowledge processes’. These ways of knowing can be used to respond appropriately to particular circumstances, problems and challenges, and can be put together purposefully to form a carefully designed comprehensive and balanced knowledge repertoire.