EDEV_508 Week 1_4

You’re right; my involvement in this week’s discussion on action research may have been side railed by this foray into knowledge. However, as my thesis subject is related to epistemology, it is useful for me to investigate how others (mis)conceive knowledge. In that vein, please allow me to finish with just one final post based on a couple of points from yours.

Do you really believe that two learning environments can contain the same “equal constituents”? Even given the same teacher, the same institution, the same methodology and the same materials, many differences—that often turn out to be crucial—can be distinguished. The time of the day, the levels of motivation, the prior levels of students and so on can affect the learning process. Another one that I find in my own classes is that I change from class to class. Each Friday afternoon, I teach the same content back-to-back with two different groups: same year group, same textbook, same methodology, same objectives … yet I find that the second class is always different from the first. Maybe the first lets me hone my delivery for the second, or maybe the energy I get from realising a point in the first class becomes blasé by the second. In short, the transient truths, that is, the real lived experiences, from the first class may not match those in the second. The knowledge generated in both is different. As yet, there is no theory to my knowledge that is able to describe, explain or predict the differences between superficially similar learning environments. The works of Polanyi (1962) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) do try to explicate tacit knowledge into the explicit domain and Schön’s (1983) theorising of various forms of reflection are useful tools that help practitioners recognise some of those transient truths as well as provide techniques for reflection on the nonconscious (by way of focusing on the action). These theories need to be combined with environmental theories.

I find the distinction between “the issues of transient/intransient knowledge and … creating climates for learning” a false one. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t learning is predicated on having a knowledge base? If that base is predicated on something other than knowledge, then our positioning as social scientists is only posturing. And this leads me to my next point: who controls (what is erroneously labelled) knowledge?

I fully take on board the reality you state that certain educational research is de-prioritised (do you mean ‘unpublished’ when you say “into the garbage bin”?) depending on political will. However, politics cannot invalidate knowledge; it can only marginalise it, or worse, socially stigmatise it. And this is the point I’ve been trying to make this week. The word ‘knowledge’ is used indiscriminately. Such a loose usage of a key term in a knowledge industry serves to a) denigrate the status of those fields that tend to do so (so education is viewed as being of lower status than physics), and b) allow what are clearly inconsistent ontological worldviews being given too much column space than what value they bring. What is much needed—especially in doctoral level learning environments—is a clinical attitude to definitional precision.

Although you may not agree, but this kind of discussion is critical in AR. AR practitioners collaborate with other professionals who may or may not share similar backgrounds. Whenever truth claims are made, those without definitional precision risk much. If, on the contrary, a listener is able to distinguish between, say, suppositions, experiences, hypotheses, information, and so on while being able to judge those claims in relation to the values, assumptions, degrees of probability and so on, and do this cognitive work sensitively, that listener will be more able to collaborate or co-operate within their environment. The building of this capacity is one of my target skills during this module. But I can’t do that when theory (in the colloquial sense) passes as knowledge.


Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books. http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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