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.

2 Responses to “Meaning-making”

  1. It was interesting to read about your concerns with an understanding of knowledge and the relationship to meaning-making. I’m a visual arts educator in Australia and passionate about connectivism, socio-technological networking and an understanding of learning.
    In the context of the visual arts the making of meaning (Meaning-Making) is both an end in itself in the form of an artwork as well as the process of the acquisition of knowledge.
    Within the context of modernism and the visual arts, Art was about “expressing ideas and feelings”. Another phrase emerged to define what Art was about which was “communicating ideas and information”. As we moved into the phase of post-modernism the phrase “negotiating meaning” became popular. The idea was that the viewer established meaning about an artwork based on their life’s experiences and the context and content of the artwork.
    As we (art educators) have moved to the 21st Century the two phrases ” constructing meaning” and “making meaning” have become popular. For both the artist and the viewer knowledge is established through the meaning constructed/made by experiencing the artwork. This leads me on to make the comments based on your taxonomy, that:
    We make meaning from the culmination and relevance of data and information within a context which helps to establishes “knowing” or add to a ‘body of knowledge’.
    Knowledge is established through the process of making meaning within a context and is internalized to to give “comprehension of the nuances, values and implication of knowledge”. Learning takes place through/in this process of making meaning and when knowledge is establishing. This in turn can establishes NEW MEANING.
    To me making or constructing meaning is part of the process of establoshing knowledge and not a higher level of the comprehension of knowledge. Knowledge is dynamic by nature through the processes of meaning-making.

  2. Catherine Steitz says:

    Ephesians 3:19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

    That is the highest “knowledge”; experiencing God in a way that is beyond knowledge, where it can only be achieved by revelation from the Holy Spirit. It is a revelation that speaks volumes to your inner-man and overwhelms you in such a way that only God could.