How do you acquire knowledge

The four types of knowledge

It is about the four types of knowledge from Kaiser’s integrating learning model (in the current version of the learning model the types of knowledge are called "knowledge systems").

Learning in all its forms can be understood as the acquisition of knowledge or as an expansion of knowledge if the term knowledge is not limited to a certain type of knowledge.

1 types of knowledge

The everyday language unfortunately makes such a limitation and speaks only of knowledge when it comes to so-called declarative knowledge goes: Linguistic theories, concepts and facts or descriptions of the world (descriptions of something).

In addition, there are other types of knowledge that differ from declarative knowledge in important points, not least in how they are acquired.

In everyday language, two types of knowledge are both referred to as ability: procedural and sensorimotor knowledge. Procedural knowledge contains all cognitive action routines that enable us to carry out many of our everyday actions routinely, i.e. without paying attention. Sensorimotor knowledge controls the automated motor activities that are adapted to the environment via sensory feedback. Since our everyday routines always contain procedural and sensorimotor components, it is understandable that everyday language does not distinguish between the two types of knowledge. However, where the acquisition and use of these types of knowledge show significant differences, it is important to take this differentiation into account.

A fourth type of knowledge is our individual situational knowledge, our countless memories of our experiences, our accumulated experiences. Everyday language does not grant these experiences the status of a type of knowledge, probably mainly because each wealth of experience remains individual and is not directly accessible to other people. However, at the latest since the findings from expert research, it is advisable to take situational knowledge into account as an independent type of knowledge.

Expert research over the past 20 years has shown that experts do not act so successfully on the basis of their declarative knowledge and the action plans derived from them that they are considered experts. They act on the basis of their huge wealth of experience: For every conceivable problem, every potential task, every situation from their area of ​​expertise, their situational knowledge already contains a good template for successful management. The secret of their success lies in their richly linked network of memories of situations and their successful management.

This situational knowledge is also spoken of in situation descriptions: "Whatever the educational goals of vocational training are formulated, the actual main goal is always the ability of the learner to successfully cope with the tasks and situations in the profession." In other words: the aim of the training is situational knowledge. The other types of knowledge and especially declarative knowledge are means on the way to the goal. This does not diminish the value of these types of knowledge, as can be seen from the following descriptions of fundamental functions of declarative knowledge can be easily determined.

2 Declarative knowledge and communication

A major reason why everyday language restricts the concept of knowledge to declarative knowledge may be that knowledge is understood as linguistically formulable and thus as communicable.

And that applies neither to situational, nor to procedural and sensorimotor knowledge. Knowledge of these three types only exists individually and cannot be communicated directly. Situational knowledge can only be made accessible to other people via an explicit description (description of the situation!); Procedural and sensorimotor knowledge is not even directly accessible to its owner. He must first create situational knowledge by performing a corresponding action, which he can then explicitly describe. And only this (situation!) Description is then accessible to other people.

Here is a first fundamental function of declarative knowledge: Whenever teaching / learning processes depend on communication - and they almost always are - information must be brought into the form of declarative knowledge. Or more specifically: If the successful mastery of professional situations is the subject of the training, then the mastery of professional situations must be described, repeatedly and better in writing than just verbally. See description of the situation.

3 "know that" and "know how"

In another differentiation of types of knowledge, "knowledge that" (knowledge) is differentiated from "knowledge how" (knowhow). "Knowing how" is then often equated with procedural and / or sensorimotor knowledge (ability). That's okay, as long as you don't confuse procedural and sensorimotor knowledge with its description. Descriptions of procedural and sensorimotor (and also situational) knowledge are no longer procedural, sensorimotor (or situational) knowledge, but declarative knowledge (linguistic descriptions of something, in this case of procedural, sensorimotor or situational knowledge).

4 learning

Learning as knowledge acquisition or knowledge expansion must now be differentiated according to which type of knowledge is to be acquired or expanded.

We acquire declarative knowledge through the Understand of heard, read and viewed descriptions (= communicatively available information). Understanding means "integrating new information into existing knowledge", thus always presupposes declarative knowledge (that is why we do not just speak of "knowledge acquisition", but always of "knowledge acquisition or knowledge expansion").

We acquire situational knowledge primarily through direct Collect of experience. To a certain extent, it is also possible for us to turn other people's experiences into our own experiences by empathizing very intensively with the role of the experiencer, or by using a sequence of demonstration and imitation very quickly literally make it your own experience.

We acquire procedural and sensorimotor knowledge through To practice, To practice and To practiceuntil the processes are automated to the point that they run routinely and without further attention. Typically, we can then turn our attention to other things during the course of the routine (e.g. having a conversation while driving). Different types of practice are distinguished in the learning model: Proceduralize, optimize and practice.

5 learning aids and declarative knowledge

Gaining experience and practicing, practicing, practicing are learning steps that primarily require the learner to be active. But it makes little sense to let the learners find the "correct" experience and the "correct" sequence of routines themselves in a blind trial-and-error behavior. Teachers are there to ensure the conditions for optimal learning steps for the learners. The above-mentioned demonstration-imitation sequence is an ancient and still one of the most important learning aids. In addition, language-based learning aids based on the pattern of suggestion (understanding) imitation have long been established. These presuppose action-oriented descriptions and thus refer to a second fundamental function of declarative knowledge: Action-guiding knowledge in the sense of instructions (one could also say: recipes) enable a huge increase in the efficiency of the learning steps "Gathering experience" and "Practice, practice, practice".

6 Describe vs Tell

The difference between demonstration and suggestion has a few nuances on closer inspection: In many cases, demonstration does not have to take place “live”. It can also be conveyed through video or film. Or by telling the events so vividly that the listener experiences them as if they were there. What is the difference between this narration and the description above. Why do we count storytelling as demonstration and describing as demonstration?

The distinction is common among scriptwriters: the "narration" of a scene draws the reader into the scene, makes him a participant. The "description" distances the reader from the scene, makes the scene and individual parts and characteristics the object of observation. Narratives are much closer to situational knowledge, are, so to speak, a direct linguistic representation of situational knowledge, suitable as templates for Relive. As linguistic representations they are of course - like all descriptions of something - declarative knowledge. Even more suitable than narratives for reliving are the scripts themselves (including the plays), which depict the situations in such a way that they can be played directly (role play, a widespread form of learning via the simulation of real events / experiences).

These nuances between suggestion and demonstration, description and narration indicate a complex relationship between declarative and situational knowledge. This relationship turns out to be even more complex when we consider the role of declarative knowledge in the perception of situations.

7 Declarative knowledge and perception

We don't see the world as it is. We literally perceive what we perceive. And this perception is already guided, controlled by our concepts, by our terms, which we have available to describe the world, to form an image of the world (a worldview). This means, however, that our situational knowledge, our experience is always colored by our declarative knowledge, which, like glasses, influences our perception of the situations we experience. And this is a third, arguably the most fundamental, function of declarative knowledge: It shapes our perception of the situation. Declarative knowledge helps determine what we actually see.

8 Declarative knowledge and planning

Declarative knowledge has other fundamental functions: We mentioned above that experts do not cope with situations on the basis of their declarative knowledge and action plans derived from it, but rather on the basis of their memory of successfully coped with similar situations. But what do beginners do who do not have the appropriate experience (= the appropriate situational knowledge)? They have no choice but to draw up an action plan based on their declarative knowledge and general planning principles, which they can then implement. Again: Experts no longer do this because it is much more time-consuming. But since we remain beginners in many areas for a lifetime (that's why we need lifelong learning), planning is rightly called fourth fundamental function of declarative knowledge considered. Planning can also be seen as creating recipes yourself (see second fundamental function of declarative knowledge). In fact, beginners who lack the situational knowledge to directly cope with a situation will try to come up with a recipe (= a ready-made plan) before planning. Only when there is no recipe at hand will they take on the great effort involved in planning.

9 Declarative knowledge and reflection

Experts decide on a plan of action based on their situational knowledge. The declarative knowledge now only plays a role as a control instance: Experts use it to check whether the intuitively chosen action plan disregards any general principles or any particularities of the situation. This encouraging reflection is the fifth fundamental function of declarative knowledge. Such reflection can occur before the action (if there is enough time), during the action (if enough attention is free), or after the action. The latter will mainly happen if the draft action could not be implemented as expected.

Beginners can of course also benefit from this fifth function of declarative knowledge. With them, enough plans will not materialize as expected and thus give cause for reflection.

10 conclusion

What does that mean for vocational training?

  • The aim of the training is situational knowledge, i.e. a richly linked network of memories of situations and their successful management.
  • The other types of knowledge (declarative, procedural, sensorimotor knowledge) are two-fold resources: on the one hand, means on the way to the goal, to build up situational knowledge, on the other hand, means that, when used appropriately, improve real action and the management of situations.
  • Declarative knowledge plays an important role in its various functions.
    • A linguistic description (= declarative knowledge) must be available for everything that is communicated about in training and at work.
    • Recipes (“suggestion instead of demonstration”) are such declarative descriptions of situational, procedural and sensorimotor knowledge and enable them
      • A more error-free handling of situations with the first attempt and thereby
      • a more efficient gathering of experience (building up situational knowledge) and practicing, practicing, practicing (building up procedural and sensorimotor knowledge).
    • Where there is no situational knowledge and no recipe for the “correct” handling of the situation, declarative knowledge is required to create a new plan (a new recipe).
    • Theories, concepts and facts make it possible to reflect on experiences, which on the one hand provides an evaluation of the experiences (good experiences = keep it up, bad experiences = do differently next time), on the other hand often leads to concrete change plans for the next time.
  • Declarative knowledge does not work simply because it is conveyed. Its effect only unfolds when it is used. As the main communicator of declarative knowledge, the vocational school must also ensure this second step.
  • Procedural and sensorimotor knowledge (skills) need practice rooms until they are automated to such an extent that they can be used as action routines in coping with real situations.