In a recent article, I provided the information system that provides the foundation for learning:
- Data – a raw element or small meaning neutral element
- Information – data with intelligence applied
- Knowledge – information in context and internalized
- Meaning – comprehension of the nuances, value, and implications of knowledge
I have grappled with a suitable definition of learning for quite a while. In the past I’ve stated that learning is actuated or actionable knowledge (i.e. something we can do). I’ve also alluded that learning informs the “softer” elements – beliefs, attitudes, and perspective (which in turn, result in a change in actions). For some reason, these definitions aren’t satisfying. I believe them to be true in most instances, but they don’t appear to completely explain the attempt and focus of learning.
Recently, I’ve become fascinated with the concept of “meaning-making”. In my current taxonomy of what it means to know, I see the sequence mentioned above: data to information to knowledge to meaning. It is one thing to “know something”, but quite another to understand what it means. We may know certain things about a person/organization/country, but to understand what it means (i.e. what are the implications, the probable outcomes, the need for action) requires a higher level of comprehension. (I’m actually feeling a bit hamstrung by the language I’m using – I keep wanting to come back to the concept of “knowing”, which in itself, is a level down from understanding meaning.)
Currently I see learning as the event that happens when we move from knowledge to meaning or sense-making. Knowing something is great. Knowing what it means moves us to a level where we can act – to support, change, redirect, challenge, or whatever. That brings me back full circle to the original definition I had of learning – actuated or actionable knoweldge…but with a greater focus on “what does it mean”. For some reason that still leaves me dissatisfied.