There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge… observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.
Denis Diderot – (1713 – 1784)
Learning from other people has been the necessary path, even more the indispensable path to collect and retain knowledge. From the cradle at home, from the schooling years until our working location we learn and collect knowledge. We are the receivers of such an amazing heritage of cultural, humanistic and social wealth. Since the very first communities in the caves of Lascaux who shared their know-how through “multimedia techniques” (the drawings on the walls about hunting, and various other scenes of their collective life) people collected knowledge, shared it within their own communities, an example of such were those cathedral builders who transmitted their skills from generation to generation, and many more examples of the same nature.
I was very lucky since childhood to be given the opportunities to collect knowledge, as my parents satisfied my curiosity (even when exaggerated) about all what was around me. I learned reading and writing before I could use a pencil and a piece of paper, with a pair of scissors and some glue I used to cut the letters from a magazine after my mom or dad wrote the desired group of words on a piece of paper such as my name and other expressions I wanted to learn about. Curiosity has been a companion that never left me since. Always willing and wanting to know more something new. Schooling years were not always fun as I often had to do as told, but moreover to follow the learning path as our teachers told us to do.
I remember I had a teacher who tried his best to show us how much he knew better than us, (I guess it is logical he knew more but better not sure), saying very often “If you do it my way then you will pass the final test!” (Don’t be shocked I am taking you back in early 60’s). Such statement remained well anchored in my mind not that I followed it, I rather used all my potential to fight it and go through the learning years the best I could.
During the years I worked as an educator, these words kept haunting me, struggling with this idea. I promised myself, in the case I would, I was to change career. To me it was a kind of betrayal towards the trust students and learners had put in me. So I took an unthinkable challenge at that time. Cover the material as requested, but using a different pedagogical approach. I guess the real challenge was mine, as I wanted to prove myself and my former teacher there was a different way to teach if not better at least for me.
Every class I taught since, I made of it a real journey, a journey to discovery, a discovery of the context, of real life examples, and the how we as people could use such knowledge. A spreadsheet class recapped the basis of math, including a few funny manners to take advantage of the various functionalities, a class on history was an occasion to mimic the events, put some dialogues and ask the participants to take a role. The first time I taught programming I had a class of people whose sole motivation was to start coding, yet not caring about the path (programming logic) to follow, etc. Teaching was never the same anymore, as it was a new journey for everyone. Since that time I always prepared my class content as if the first time. I know most of my colleagues thought I was spending too much time when I could get in class 5 minutes before and start teaching (reading the course I guess).
Through years and collecting knowledge I also discovered how important Knowledge would be for the benefit of people. Learning and memorizing was not enough anymore, people needed to understand the big picture and the real challenges behind every piece of knowledge they could grab… That also was the time when I met a senior engineer, a fellow co-worker, who taught me the most amazing lesson of my entire career. We were discussing the implementation of Knowledge Management (Knowledge Network) implementation for his division, we reached a point where the team needed to make a final decision about the model, and he stopped, looking at me, he said “You know Michel, I learned something not long ago – When you share knowledge make sure not to share your habits!”
Denis Diderot, I guess, was not far from this idea when in the middle of the 18th century speaking of knowledge he introduced the fundamentals of collecting (acquiring) knowledge: observation – reflection and experimentation, whether it is about nature or science or literature. It is a matter of people, a matter of sharing the true and real meaning of that know-how and less about our own personal ways, just because that is the way we do it!
Until our next chat,
Michel – July 21, 2015
The picture represents some of the authors, thinkers, philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment.