Improvement of

Knowledge Generation and Transfer

 

Alexander Liss

 

12/18/2008

 

 

     Crisis of Education in the USA is actually much broader – it is a Crisis of Knowledge Generation and Transfer, a Crisis of the major subsystem of the society.

     In the time, when an average person has to understand and know increasingly more in increasingly broader area (politics, finance, economy, employable skills, etc.) the large majority of the society neither has adequate Knowledge nor has skills or tools to acquire Knowledge. The problem is not in absence of abstract Knowledge, without which one could survive nicely end even flourish. There is lack of Knowledge, which is crucially important for functioning in the rapidly changing environment and society. This is a deficiency, which makes individuals and the society as a whole prone to crises.

Knowledge has to be perpetually generated, adjusted to specific situations and personalities, and passed to willing recipients. Knowledge generation is not embedded well into economic system – not compensated well. Education system is in disarray. This is a problem mirroring the problem of lack of Knowledge.

Current Socio-Economic Crisis makes this situation a critical one, a Crisis of its own. The society has to restructure itself, it needs highly functional system of Knowledge Generation and Transfer to handle this task, and it does not have even an adequate system to handle a stable state of society.  

Note that attempts to improve only some parts of this system in isolation – fix school system, for example, did not work. The broad and radical approach is needed.

 

 

Generation

 

A society perpetually generates logically organized information, which is applicable with some interpretation to various situations – the Knowledge. This is an essential social activity it is desirable from social and from individual points of view.

Successful generation of the Knowledge is universally perceived as reward on its own – one feels better equipped to deal with future challenges. Sharing of the Knowledge between members of a cooperating social group is natural, because it strengthens the group.

Naturally, in advanced societies there are specialists. Successful Knowledge Generation specialists have to have flexible mind trained to see logical inconsistencies and imbalances, which they naturally apply to social issues, hence they cannot be conformists and could be difficult to fit in some relatively rigid organizations and even in social groups. Still, the same ability to challenge commonly accepted views are invaluable in times of a crisis or when a substantially novel organization has to be created. Hence, they are eagerly deployed as advisers.

A quick evaluation of quality of results of a Knowledge Generator could be done only by other Knowledge Generators specialized in a similar area. This naturally leads to forming of “guilds” of specialist concerned only with opinions of their peers. As a negative byproduct, this creates a barrier in the Knowledge Transfer from such a “guild” to the rest of the society.

Efficient planning of the Knowledge Generation is impossible. The Knowledge Generation happens at the edge of understanding of a society and any planning at least some understanding of the road ahead, which does not exist in this case. It is possible to narrow an area, where such activity is channeled. This does not work on a level of the society as a whole, because rather sooner than later an important direction of research would be missed. The experience of centralized governing of scientific research supports this observation, such governing inevitably leads to low efficiency of research and missed opportunities.

Hence, the only viable mechanism organizing Knowledge Generation is based on self-assessment of the quality of results and level of skills of Knowledge Generators by Knowledge Generators themselves and use of this assessment by the society to plug Knowledge Generation into social systems and into market.

There is a particular area of the Knowledge Generation is associated with growing culture generated by the society: technological, financial, business, etc. In this area, research is narrowly focused and this provides some limited ability to plan it and manage it. In addition, some results of such research could be quickly embedded into market economy and this allow for allocation of large share of resources of the society to this particular area of the Knowledge Generation. However, research in this area cannot replace fundamental research.

Even in this area, the society has to rely on self-assessment of Knowledge Generators.

Attempts to supplement such self-assessment with various forms of government directed distribution of resources only lead to rise of specialists in getting resources according to actual mechanism of this distribution and not according to quality of delivered new Knowledge.

At this point, the Knowledge Generation is a craft, which is passed from a teacher to a disciple. Hence, training of new Knowledge Generation specialists is very limited.

Knowledge Generation specialists need socially and economically comfortable niches to occupy, while they do their opaque work. Historically these niches were found with universities and colleges, government run organizations and research departments of private organizations. Number of these niches either does not increase fast enough to serve growing needs of the society, or even decreases in times of economic difficulties.

Because number of such niches is very small, it creates unfortunate initiative to limit the number of newly trained Knowledge Generators.

Transfer of the leading edge Knowledge is done via publications and gatherings. Unfortunately, this form of the Knowledge Transfer is inefficient – publications and the right to attend such gatherings are extremely expensive. Such expensive system served well in a slow changing society, where a person hardly needed to be involved with leading edge of research and it was a rarity, when one needed to be involved with many different areas of research.

However, when the society and technology is changing fast, efficient access to leading edge research is a necessity. This inefficient Knowledge Transfer is in conflict with current needs of the society, but the unfortunate tendency of protecting the craft from outsiders rather reinforces it.

Presence of Knowledge Generation specialists in an organization has its benefits. They uplift the intellectual level in organization, its ability for critical analysis of the situation and hence chances for survival and attractiveness for young educated specialists. Also, they usually have strong abilities to organize the thoughts and this is translated into clear presentation of the Knowledge in understandable and memorable way. However, these advantages are not easily quantifiable and it times of economic difficulties they are discarded as immaterial. Only universities value them as magnets for new students and try to retain Knowledge Generation specialists through tough times.

Knowledge Generation specialists lead insular life and this causes broad rejection by the society, which is engaged in market activity, where success is associated with material compensation (mad scientist is a broadly accepted image of a Knowledge Generator).

Knowledge Generation system usually grows slowly. Only in times when a society is in fear to fall behind in competition with another society or with the force of nature, there is a push to speed up this process. For example, when the USA was falling behind in space race, sciences and engineering were advanced rapidly.

The entire subsystem is stable, it was built-up in times, where education was rarity, it survived severe shocks caused by major wars, it adapted to demands of modern society. However, it is inadequate, it does not serve well needs of society.

At this point, the society is facing a real threat of inability to handle changes brought by the combined effect of population growth, technological development and global economic restructuring.

Economic crises are frequent.

Important decisions related to possible global warming are driven not by Knowledge but by hysterical, politically motivated movements.

This is the time to reform the Knowledge Generation system. 

 

 

School

 

Children are creative thinkers, who learn eagerly. Knowledge, which the society has to pass to them is well understood and well prepared for Knowledge Transfer. Teachers make this transfer repeatedly and quickly hone their knowledge Transfer skills. Tuning of Knowledge Transfer procedure, adjustment of it to needs of individual student, is not difficult. Hence, school presents an ideal setting for the Knowledge Transfer.

There are specifics of Knowledge Transfer, which are clearly seen in school.

In each well defined separate area of Knowledge, a person is able to learn only one new major idea a day. This is applicable to adults also. Hence, one can see teaching of distinctive disciplines done in parallel and Knowledge delivered in measured daily portions.

Because Knowledge delivery is often sequential, where today’s portion relies on already learned, understood and internalized previous one, gaps in Knowledge are especially detrimental. In any good school, these gaps are detected early and fixed.

Main driver of Knowledge acquisition is a natural desire to know. In a good school, this driver is not dulled, but sharpened through measured feeding of the mind with Knowledge and protection from frustration. Fear and duty could help to overcome some temporary psychological problems, but they cannot be used as drivers of Knowledge acquisition – memorizing is not Knowledge acquisition; it is only a small part of it. 

Together with Knowledge, children acquire important skills.

Ability to work many hours in a row to acquire Knowledge is learned, it is not natural, and it is learned in school.

Ability to maintain focus on a narrow subject is also learned in school.

School polishes logical thinking, and this takes a long time.

Critical thinking – ability to detect logical contradictions, accept them as a natural state of things, and not succumb under pressure to discard a point of view, which contradicts to a generally accepted one, is a crucially important skill, which is learned in a good school.

Ability to seek for sources of ready Knowledge is trained in a good school.

Most importantly, in a good school, children learn how to adjust the Knowledge, which they have already, to new situation and share it with others. Essentially, this is a step of generation of new Knowledge. It is an essential part of Knowledge acquisition.

Knowledge Transfer in school is well understood and easily could be organized with relatively simple preconditions. Schools, where the Knowledge Transfer is a main goal, are inexpensive, orderly and efficient in achieving this goal. The fact that the Knowledge Transfer does not work well in so many schools is a sure sign that other goals tramp the goal of the Knowledge Transfer there.

Note that proper organization of a school is not a simple matter: one has to strike a proper balance with parents and their world view, assure respect for teachers, take in consideration diversity of students, etc. It is challenging to set it up that the Knowledge Transfer works in an optimal way; little room is left to serve other goals.

When the school is overwhelmed with goals unrelated to the Knowledge Transfer, as increase of funding, search for “better teachers”, making children play and “feel good” does not do any good.

Smaller classes and prettier buildings do not do much, when children are not directed to learn.

Teachers quickly adapt to the requirements of the school. When the school ignores Knowledge Transfer and puts emphasis on other things, teachers deliver these other things at expense of Knowledge Transfer.

A “new and improved” teaching technique (learning through games, for example) does not bring desirable results also. First, why this technique is not used in education of privileged children? Second, does this technique teach important skills, which one acquires during Knowledge Transfer, as ability to focus for many hours and to work diligently for long hours. These skills are not natural. These are important skills to have. Fortunately, these skills are acquired in a process of the Knowledge Transfer.

 

Transfer

 

There are patterns of efficient Knowledge Transfer, which could be found when Knowledge is transferred to children or adults.

There is great variety in the ways an individual mind learns. Some learn slowly other quickly, some rely on associative memory others on organizing new information into logical structures, some create associations with concrete examples others with abstract ideas, etc. Different people rely on different sets of mental images in organizing new information. This does not depend on the field, where they operate, but it is a way their mind works. Some create stories, some create visual images, some create images of some physical body or phenomenon, etc.

To communicate some general idea to all people with varying mechanisms of perception, we developed a universal dry language of logical description, specialized according to a set of “disciplines”. Description in this language neither reflects the way the Knowledge have been generated nor the way the Knowledge is perceived. It is an intermediate language, which one learns.

When one learns how to generate Knowledge, one learns how to present results in this language. This is a part of training of the Knowledge Generator.

When one learns how to acquire the Knowledge one learns to translate from this language into the ways one’s mind works. The Knowledge acquisition is facilitated by the specialists in the Knowledge Transfer – teachers. They adjust the message delivered in this special language to the specifics of one’s perception and level of one’s existing Knowledge.

Teachers have to work with groups of students. The larger is variety of the perception mechanisms and Knowledge levels of students in a group the lower is efficiency of the Knowledge Transfer. 

This factor is mitigated in colleges with officering of courses, which student select according to their perception mechanism – they take courses, which they understand better. Specialized schools provide selection of students with similar perception mechanism; hence in theory they should be more efficient in the Knowledge transfer. In good schools, students are grouped to reduce diversity of learning mechanisms in a group.

When diversity of learning mechanisms in a group is large, a teacher adjusts the Knowledge Transfer to only some sub-group in a group; the rest of the group suffers from inadequate adjustment and falls behind. Which sub-group is selected for such targeting depends on factors, which have nothing to do with efficiency of learning. If a teacher’s job is evaluated by the number of those who under-perform, then the sub-group consist of those who learn slowly and whose level of existing Knowledge is low, if he is evaluated by the number of successful students, then the sub-group consists of over-achievers. In any case, such large diversity leads to a large group of students having inadequate instructions.

The methods of Knowledge Transfer for homogeneous groups of learners are quickly developed and shared; this improves the efficiency of such Knowledge Transfer.

Knowledge is acquired, when one could transfer it successfully adjusting it to recipient’s specifics of learning and one could apply it. Both criteria have to be met.

Knowledge is an active social phenomenon; hence ability to modify it for transfer or for decision-making is essential. In some respect, such modification is Knowledge Generation on a small scale.

Hence, Knowledge Transfer includes teaching such creative modification and application of transferred logical constructs.

The quickest and most efficient Knowledge Transfer starts with the desire to solve some problems and the search for Knowledge, which helps to do so. Then even absorption of information prepared in a universal form unrelated to one’s tasks, is accompanied with perpetual attempts to interpret it and apply to one’s known situations.

This approach to learning is natural for young children. Bad education system suppresses it and it has to be relearned then.

  

 

Radical Reorganization

 

The contradiction between needs of the society for Knowledge Generation and Transfer and existing system are so large that one should expect a Radical reorganization in this area. The problem exists for awhile already, and there are no substantial improvements. Most likely, the system as is cannot adjust gradually; hence it will be reorganized radically.

Following is needed:

·        Increase in number of scientists engaged in basic research and their funding

·        Improvement of Knowledge Transfer from basic research to applied research and to practical decision makers in engineering, economy, politics, etc.

·        Expansion and improvement in adult education to support new emerging areas of commerce and mitigate loss of jobs in existing areas

·        Reduction of cost of higher education

·        Increase of level of Knowledge achieved through school education

There is little hope that the government could solve these problems. A market mechanism should be engaged to provide a lasting solution.

A new set of products and services is needed:

·        Short courses dedicated to narrow scientific subjects delivered electronically with variants for different target customers

·        Short series of lectures dedicated to narrow scientific subjects delivered electronically with variant for different target customers

·        Computerized systems of short duration interactive learning (the modern version of in class exercises and homework)

·        Deployment of these courses, lectures and systems of interactive learning by organizations providing high education, adult education, and school education

     New forms of scientific gathering should be developed and promoted, forms with rely on electronic communication without need for physical presence in one place.

     Electronic publications of scientific results should be a norm.

     A broad group of people should be involved in review of scientific publications. There is a large group of specialists in Knowledge Transfer, who need to be involved in such reviewing process to improve their social standing and to be engaged in intense intellectual activity. There is a group who would like to be involved in it out natural interest in sciences.

     They have to be engaged in reviewing after an official publication and in reviewing before such publication.

     Good reviews should be published and compensated.

     This will speed up reviewing process, improve its quality, increase publication volumes and will make new forms of publications economically viable.

     It should be possible to have a choice of school. To some degree it exists with specialized schools and specialized classes in a school, however it is insufficient to provide reduction of variability of learning mechanisms in a class and to provide healthy competitions between schools as organizations. The issue is regulatory, this is not an issue caused by shortage of resources; hence it should be solved accordingly.

     In the time of a severe economic crisis, current education system is not adequate. Current forms of college education – expensive and taking too long for the amount of Knowledge received, are not affordable. Young people have to start work earlier; hence the society needs some forms of school, from which one could graduate earlier with a sufficient set of skills. Most importantly, many skills, which allowed gainful employment are insufficient in a new environment, hence new intensive and inexpensive forms of adult education are needed.

     This new demand should cause emergence of new more efficient forms of organization of education, which in turn should affect existing ones.