Learners & Knowers

“At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

-Alistair Smith

Alistair Smith is a speaker and educational advocate who inspires us to think about new learning methods as we encounter an age of technological innovation. Learners have room to breathe, room to fail, and receive encouragement in the form of timely feedback. Knowers simply ingest information and regurgitate it in certain circumstances. What happens if I know but can’t do? Learning requires progress. A learner progresses from simple knowledge to application and innovation. A knower only holds the knowledge in his/her pocket.

More knowledge is constantly being added to what we already know. The information in textbooks, for example, can become outdated before the book has reached its determined lifespan in a classroom. Revisions are necessary, and in this digital age, those revisions are frequent. By the time we feel like we know something, new information comes out shedding new light on the issue. The world as we knew it no longer exists because pieces are constantly changing. Instead, we need to evolve as the information does and be ready to apply what we do know. As a matter of fact, that application is often what changes our knowledge. It pushes the boundaries, rearranges the facts, and provides a new perspective on the world and its workings.

Watch Alistair’s presentation below. It’s not just the fluff of wanting change. It is an exhortation to change. If we know what it takes, then what are we doing about it?



  1. Words are so interesting constructs. I agree with you about the importance of learning process, but disagree about the definition of knowers. Have you read Kegan’s (1982, 1994, 2000) theories of different types of knowers? There is a huge difference between instrumental knowers and self-transforming knowers (and those in between: socializing and self-authoring knowers). This gives a nice preview: http://www.schoolreforminitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/JSD-drago-severson-08.pdf


    1. Hi Nina. Thanks for your comment. I see your point about knowers. There seems to be two viewpoints: a) one where knowers are those who are acquiring knowledge, and b) another where a knower is someone who has a particular way of understanding and interacting with the world around him/her.

      I think both are needed. We do need to gather information and make sense of it, but we need to do it both in our own contexts and in those of a global perspective. The former would be knowledge consumption and organization, while the latter would be finding meaning in what we discover. After all of that, we can engage in the process of application. While I think we are learning all the way through, it is not until we reflect on those processes afterward that we are aware of the learning (which may be actual learning in itself).

      Thank you so much for the resource! Kegan has great insight into adult learning — andragogy. It looks a little different from pedagogy because of the inherent amount of experiences that adults have. I’ve saved the document for future reference.


      1. Ah, this discussion is SO delicious as it leads back to the basic epistemology of knowledge: is it something we acquire and store or something we construct? The answer not only defines the teaching philosophy, but also the approach for learning.

        Yes, I agree that andragogy highlights the lived experience of an adult learner (oh, how I wish that was move evident and actualized in the instructional design in colleges and universities, not to talk about PD!!!), however, I am ready to claim that already a preschooler arrives to the instructional situation with preconceptions (derived from their experiences) that either help or hinder their learning (i.e. the application).

        I am not too fond of the term heutagogy (some people suggest it to be used as a combination of peda- and adragogy), but the learning itself is a phenomenon that doesn’t change too much throughout our lives – true learning occurs when our thinking (understanding?) changes.

        To learn very effectively we must have quite extensive knowledge about things related to the subject… so while I like the quote in the beginning of your post, I think it might be more about being open for the change, than promoting learning over knowing. It is dangerous to have just a little amount of information/knowledge and then act upon it. But, my view is biased, because I am a researcher…. 🙂


      2. A keen insight into a crucial and fundamental question about learning. If a constructivist approach is taken, then preconceptions (of adults and children) play a role, wether they help or hinder. However, if that’s true, then wouldn’t knowledge play a part in forming those preconceptions? With that in mind, you might even say that knowledge can get in the way of learning to a degree. It looks to be a double-edged sword, where we need knowledge to apply to problems and ideas for change to take place; on the other side, it can blind us from thinking outside the box if we are hemmed in by the right/wrong concept promoted by the knowledge we possess. A balancing act to be sure: helping learners take in knowledge and apply it while helping them to see past it for their own creativity and learning process. I think your statement about learning taking place when our thinking/understanding changes is spot on. Learning is a development…moving from one level to another, and not necessarily in one direction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s