Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Acknowledge what you don't know

I’ve noticed this phenomenon in many people (including myself): We all say / think that we know something, while in the back of our minds we realize that we don’t have a full grasp on some concept. Yet we still continue like we fully understand. I’ll give an example in a moment.

While this can apply to many facets of our lives, I’m going to show how it can affect our academic learning.

Let’s say I pretend to understand chemistry. “Yeah, there are some molecules. Sometimes they’re together, sometimes they aren’t.” Frankly, that’s total garbage. This is quite a bit of exaggeration, but I hope it looks a little familiar.

We fool ourselves into thinking that we know something, and when test time comes everything falls apart. Do not wait until a test to realize you don’t know something. The only person you are hurting is yourself.

A long time ago I remember learning about the Four Levels of Knowledge*:

1) You don't know that you don't know.
(You don't realize you are ignorant.)

2) You know what you don't know.
(You are aware of your ignorance.)

3) You don't know that you know.
(You are not aware of the knowledge you have.)

4) You know that you know.
(You realize what knowledge you have and how to use it.).

- In the first stage, since you don’t even know that you are lacking knowledge, you can’t even work to fix it.

- In the second stage, the highlight of this article, you are now aware of your ignorance, so you can work to learn what you are missing.

- In the third stage, you are in the process of learning; however, you still are not aware of when to use this knowledge or how extensive it is.

- In the last stage, you have become so proficient in the material that you can use it in many contexts.

The key to extract from this is that you should be aware of how much you know, and work to improve from there. It's ok to not know something, but it's not ok to sit by and do nothing about it.

Once you realize you need to learn something, work towards learning it. I know it can be difficult at times, but you can do it. Trust me.

* I have actually heard this in another way as well, with 3 and 4 switched. If the last stage is “You don’t know what you know”, then you are so proficient with something that you perform it naturally without any real conscious thought. This applies more to skills-based things like judo or piano. I think in academic matters you should always be thinking.

PS: I realize there must be a compromise between learning in complete detail and covering everything, if time is tight. This is probably a good endorsement for time-management, but I’ll save that for later.

Labels: , , , ,


At 5:22 PM, Blogger Shan said...

2) You know what you don't know.
(You are not aware of your ignorance.)

Shouldn't that read "You are aware of your ignoracnce."?

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Joshua Hwang said...

You are very correct. I'll fix that now.


Post a Comment

<< Home