The Problem of Knowing Without Understanding – Effectiviology - Deepstash
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Inert knowledge: Learning without understanding

Inert knowledge: Learning without understanding

Inert knowledge is learning information without understanding it, which means you have a limited ability to recognise, express or use it.

  • For example, memorising a math formula without understanding its meaning or implication. Students can learn stuff, pass examinations, and not understand what they have memorised.
  • Inert knowledge in language learning is memorising a grammatical rule without understanding what the rule means or how to use it.


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When knowledge is considered inert

The person knows something, but doesn't understand it, and can't do much with it.

  • They don't understand what the knowledge means, its implications, or how it connects to other knowledge.
  • When it's presented in different ways or contexts, they do not recognise it.
  • They are unable to apply it in practice or don't know how to use it when there are minor adjustments.


298 reads

Lee S. Shulman

“You need facts to make sense; they are the basis for understanding, but they are never enough. Inertia as pathology describes those states of mind where people come to know something but simply can’t go beyond the facts, can’t synthesize them, think with them, or apply them in another situation.”



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Six types of abilities in the context of educational goals

Bloom's taxonomy describes six major types of abilities based on educational goals:

  • Remembering: Recalling the relevant information from long-term memory.
  • Understanding information: Interpreting it, summarising, explaining, and giving relevant examples.
  • Application: Implementing information.
  • Analysing, such as organising it and understanding how these parts relate to each other.
  • Evaluating: Critiquing the information and making relevant judgments.
  • Creating new things based on the information.


210 reads

Knowledge-telling and knowledge-building

It is important to understand the difference between knowledge-telling and knowledge building.

  • Knowledge-telling is a shallow engagement with knowledge, generally by reading or memorising without analysing or reflecting.
  • Knowledge-building is engaging deeply with study material by analysing it in-depth and looking at it from various angles.


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Avoiding inert knowledge in education

There are two main approaches in education to avoid inert knowledge:

Teach in a way that encourages the development of active knowledge. When teaching students about a certain concept,

  • help them to understand what it means,
  • how it connects to other things, and
  • how to apply the information in practice.

Encourage people to learn in a way that encourages the development of active knowledge.

  • Explain the concept of inert knowledge to students.
  • Explain why it is a problem
  • Encourage them to ask themselves guiding questions when they learn new material.


174 reads

Alfred North Whitehead

“Education with inert ideas is not only useless: it is, above all things, harmful—Corruptio optimi, pessima [the corruption of the best is the worst of all].”



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