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Myth-busting: I DO know what I don’t know!

December 8, 2011

Throughout the last five years or so, I’ve had countless people in the learning design field say to me “people don’t know what they don’t know.”  Ah yes, we all nod and say how insightful that is and we treat it as a very good reason to go forward and design something to help them figure out what they don’t know.  By doing this, we assume that a designer (subject-matter expert or not) can somehow break every task into bite-sized parts, ensure they flow in a correct order and have the learner memorize them and execute them flawlessly after some practice.

This morning, I find myself calling shenanigans on that.  Name me any topic and I will tell you if I do or do not know something about it.  If you had asked me two years ago if I knew anything about moocs like #change11, I would have said “nope, I don’t know what a mooc is”.  Ask me today if I understand what heutagogy is and I’ll say “I’m not sure, the definition never sticks in my head.”  Better yet, I’ll probably say “I don’t know what that is but I can find out” and off I run to Google or someone in my personal learning network to start exploring.

Now, I recognize that I score pretty highly on the self-directed learning spectrum and that I have an ever-lowering tolerance for people telling me what I ‘have’ to learn and how to learn it.   My point is this: I think people know damn well what they do and don’t know and they come to the table with some ability to figure things out or they wouldn’t have gotten this far in life already.  Who am I to suggest otherwise?

Where I do see my value as a ‘designer’ is to ask the right questions about where the person is coming from, encourage them to access tools they already have and offer suggestions of other approaches they *might* take if they find them relevant, attractive or practical.  In other words, people already have a menu in my mind. My job is to help them locate the buffet.

What do you think?


From → Smarter worker

  1. There is still lots of stuff I don’t know what I don’t know…..(Stephen Downes’ OlDaily always surprises me), but then again, I don’t want to know all the stuff that I don’t know 🙂 So, I have no problem with that…..:-)
    And, once I know what I don’t know, I don’t always want to know either…..
    (and I haven’t had a drink yet!)

  2. More refreshing insights. Love your brain, Brainy 🙂
    Once again, I find myself wondering what this means for the work that we do.
    I’ve learned so much about learning in the last few months that my head feels hot and squishy, and most of what I’ve been learning recently tears down what I understood to be the foundations of training and training design theory: learning styles, objectives, engagement … Is the “training” we design even legitimate training, or is it just targeted communication dressed up like training so that the people who think training is required are satisfied?
    One of the things that bothers me about the whole PCT fervor right now is the hypocrisy of it. We simultaneously put the responsibility for learning in the hands of the learners, and go to ridiculous lengths to make the process “non-theateneing” for them. Learning is challenging. It should be. I’m not fond of the coddle. I’d like to treat our staff like capable, intelligent people, but I’m constantly frustrated by the expectations of others who believe that we’re training intransigent children. Of course, those others are the stakeholders who have commissioned the training …
    This is threatening to turn into a rant.
    So I’ll stop.
    Keep the keen on your insights!
    Loving connecting the dots!

    • Thanks, Melanie, you’re hitting a lot of nails on the head (or chipping at foundations). I’m not fond of the coddle either. Keep following your intuition, squishy as it might feel! 🙂

  3. Deb Mynar permalink

    Sometimes I take the people don’t know what they don’t know comment as an indicator of knowing vs. intuition, too. So, what about people who come to the same learning table (a single design) with different appetites?

    • Thanks, Deb, I think your question supports my attachment to moocs like #change11 as offering a buffet of options to satisfy diverse appetites, preferences and requirements. If I am a lactose-intolerant, gluten-free vegetarian, I am going to have a hell of a time eating the fixed menu of a traditional North American holiday meal. Maybe a potluck is a better analogy because that puts the owness on the participants to ‘show up’ with something in hand?

  4. Great posting! I’ve had numerous experiences not knowing what I didn’t know. I’m not sure how I knew I didn’t know, but I’m thankful there are people around to fill me in. The mystery is how did they know I didn’t know?

    Oddly, everyone I try to fill in already knows what I’m telling them or decides I’m full of crap. Which brings me to the conclusion that there really is no market knowing what others don’t know and explains why school is compulsory.


    • Thanks, Scott, I always appreciate your insights! 🙂 I’m glad to have so many folks in my personal learning network now to ‘fill me in’ as well. Otherwise, I’d be walking around looking like a swiss cheese most of the time (but I would know I was swiss cheese…)

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