Survivability of knowledge

I delivered a short presentation (via Skype) to a group of Finnish students this morning. During the question and answer session, a student asked how we are supposed to “get rid of the junk” when information is so abundant. When everyone has a voice, useful information may become less prominent in the overall pool (i.e. the percentage of valuable information drops in relation to the increase of overall information…especially when the information being produced does not include some type of vetting process – namely, viewpoints without supporting evidence or rigour of thought, or blog posts about “what I did today” or information provided through a service like Twitter).
In my eyes, the challenge of information abundance has a simple solution: networks. As I build my own learning networks, I am “plugging in” to the thinking, decision making, and filtering habits of others. I have about 300 blogs in my RSS aggregator. The ideas that I find of most value are clipped, blogged, or furled. Anyone who follows my elearnspace blog encounters the distillation of my information sources. When I read Stephen’s, Will’s, or Clarence’s blogs, I receive the benefit of their own filtering activities. Each blog I read may represent the distillation of several hundred information sources (of which there will be many duplications). To follow even 10 blogs may be filtered outcome of 3000 different information points. In this sense, we build a network of trusted filters (and creators) or information. Each individual node represents a world view or insight into a broader manner of seeing and knowing.
This simple process of learning from the learning of others is strong in “flow” or “process” forms of knowledge (i.e. knowledge that has not yet hardened into common understandings or practices). Many forms of knowledge are eventually productized in the form of books or articles. What is required for knowledge to survive the daily flow and become a product? Why do the works of Dewey, Freire, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Einstein and others persist while peers of their age have faded from large-scale recognition? Part of the credit is due to the originality of an idea or contribution – Kuhn with paradigm shifts, Einstein with relativity, Wittgenstein with language games. But more appears to be present than simply an excellent idea. Aside from individuals who are silenced for a generation – Vygostsky for example – and are later discovered, many thinkers reside in obscurity for decades, only to have their ideas awakened when the world has caught up with their insight.
But beyond those obvious principles, why do some forms of knowledge survive while others fade? Is it a function of power laws – how each knowledge node is connected to the rest of the network? Why do some bloggers have thousands of readers…and others only have a few? What, beyond the idea itself, ensures its survival (for example, we have many examples of ideas that should die, but continue to flourish)? And what are the implications to educators seeking to utilize networks of learning? How will we ensure that the important knowledge survives…and less important elements slide into obscurity? Or is the role of an educator less about helping individuals form networks of a particular type (intionality), and more about creating an ecology in which the learners form personally relevant networks? If so, how do we manage to move to a clear goal? Or does the goal become simply what the many are pursuing?

One Response to “Survivability of knowledge”

  1. Juliana Gense says:

    Hi again George! By following your discussion the last post about dialogue I could get it…what dialogue is or what dialogue can be…
    It seems that the questions you´ve raised in this post are really related to the issue of dialogue, since most of the educational process resides in dialogue.
    Educators should recognize that now there is no more relevant and important knowledge as we assumed in the past, when someone or some institution decided what was important or relevant…nowadays each individual constructs a network and includes in it what is relevant for him (isn’t it Connectivism?) and does not accept that others make choices for them. So, trying to help you answer your questions, I can say that within my small educator experience (I am an English teacher in Brazil) I have noticed that what works best is respecting the individuals autonomy and so, create an ecology that lets them create their own networks, that is you show them what are the things they can learn and why and they choose; that means you teach them to start a connection and keep making connections by the time they can make the connections by themselves and you just “manage” the connections. Of course, I have also been thinking what should be considered essential, let’ say, “start” this network, and thus be intentionally guided by the teacher…I imagine it depends on knowing who your students are and what they want from you…the more you know them the more you offer what they need and teach them to get what they want…I mean, you teach them how to access information and aggregate them to their networks transforming them into knowledge. Of course, this process is not really like that, as it should be, once I still have to respect the institutions I work for and, let’s say, teach something even if it is not relevant…but I do my best in order that students learn what they really want and more important, analysing why they want to know something.
    Hope I was clear enough; maybe I was too obvious or naive; maybe I wrote too much and meant nothing related to the matter. So I’d appreciate if you commented about what I wrote in order that by trying to help you to get to your answers I get to my answers. Thanks!