Information is not knowledge

We can be well informed while we are also incompetent and ill prepared to respond effectively to unfamiliar situations. We can say the right thing but not do it. We can be twice as smart as we act because we're "book smart" but not "street smart". We're good to go on quiz shows, but not capable of handling real world challenges. We shortchange ourselves and think we're rich. Information is not knowledge.

There's at least four aspects of knowledge creation that information cannot provide:

  • Providing Intention: What are we questioning and wondering about? Which objective are we pursuing by acquiring this information?
  • Providing Context: How is this information useful to us? In what situation are we going to apply this content to solve our problems, make a difference, or help others succeed at something?
  • Providing Connections: How does this information tie into what we already know, reveal a similar pattern or overlap our current map? What sense  emerges from this information by containing it in our overall perspective, predictions and potentials?
  • Providing Meaning: What spin are we putting on this information with our worldview? How are we inserting this information into our idiosyncratic story about who we think we are and how the world works according to us?

Content delivery systems only provide information. We can become dependent on these systems and assume it's enough to get informed. We don't know what we're missing. We then cannot provide for ourselves what it takes to create personal knowledge from delivered information. We gorge ourselves on data and wonder why our lives seem so meaningless, hectic and desperate. We figure the evidence of ineptitude and incapacitation is somebody else's problem.

It's easier than ever to get caught up in thinking that getting information is enough. We can get informed through URL page loads, FTP downloads, WIFI connections, GPS satellite data, cell phone connectivity, mobile broadband networks and satellite TV. We can access information 24/7 that used to only be available sitting in seats at a certain time, looking at pages with ink on them, or inserting recorded media into some kind of player. Content delivery systems want us to think that information is all we need for now. Why bother doing the heavy lifting of creating knowledge when we're drowning in lightweight data? We think we need somebody to give us a break, an escape or new toy, not the created knowledge that nobody can give us.

In a world that's well informed, but lacking knowledge, reliable systems quit working. Products get recalled in staggering numbers and services quit serving their customers' real concerns. Corporations do more harm than good to individuals, communities and the environment. Governments deplete their treasuries in endless conflicts and neglect the maintenance of their societies' infrastructures.

Creating knowledge from information is an inside job. It takes intrinsic motivation to pursue the intrinsic learning that provides intrinsic rewards. The process is autonomous and social. We do it on our own and together, outside the confines of control systems. We provide for ourselves what cannot be delivered to us. We make up for the shortcomings of information with our own reflective practices.

PLE's are working when they support this heavy lifting, intrinsically-motivated personal reflection that creates personal knowledge. Otherwise, PLE's are mere "content management systems" consistent with the well-informed ineptitude that serves all customers poorly.


  1. Tom, This is a brilliant post. In education, we have become consumed by content. "Things Covered vs. Things Learned" Your layers of knowledge are so on point! Knowledge creation is absolutely an inside job. The only way to propel learners to independence is to model, demonstrate, explore, and pursue how thatinside job gets done. Thanks for stretching my thinking!

  2. Angela: It's great to hear from you and I'm delighted you like this one. I've been reading your blog since I subscribed. You've got me thinking about making connections (like text to world) and going deeper into content by inference and reflection. You too are a thought leader to escape the trap of "info is enuf". Keep up the good work!

  3. This is a brilliant post, Tom. Provides inspiration to look at what we do in learning, and to see it in positive light in the world so swamped with information. Yes, it is so easy to confuse information with knowledge. Simply look around for so much of work on content that has begun to loose its purpose and objective. You have brought out the purpose that content needs to serve, so well. Thanks for this delightful post.

  4. Thanks Uma. I'm glad your own reflections made so many connections to what I wrote :-)