Four Types of Knowledge1

1. Dualism-Received Knowledge
(knowledge as objective facts)

View of Knowledge:
Knowledge is facts, information, and right answers.

View of Instructor:
Instructors are authorities who know the facts.
Teaching is telling students those facts.

View of Learning:
Learning is recording information in notes, committing it to memory, and feeding it back as answers on the test.

Difficulties with:
Uncertainty or disagreement among authorities.
Multiple perspectives or more than one answer.
Questions or assignments which require independent thought.

2. Multiplicity-Subjective Knowledge
(knowledge based in subjective experience)

View of Knowledge:
In some areas, truth is not yet known. Differences of opinion are legitimate.
When the facts are not known, one theory or opinion is as good as another so long as it makes sense.
Students gradually discover that academics have rules for making sense.

View of Instructor:
Instructor's opinions are no better than students'.
However, instructors know how to make sense-how to support their opinions-in academic settings.
Teaching is showing students how to think.

View of Learning:
Student's job is to learn how to play the academic game-how to think and how to support opinions.

Difficulties with:
Assignments that call for informed opinions, reasoned judgments, evidence and documentation.
Idea that some opinions are better than others.
Evaluation of student work.

3. Relativism-Procedural Knowledge
(knowledge as disciplinary, methodological)

View of Knowledge:
Knowledge is neither facts and right answers, nor is it anyone's opinion.
Students now see complexity in problems and issues, the need for systematic analysis, and the importance of evidence.

View of Instructor:
Instructor may not have answers but they know discipline's methods of analysis.

View of Learning:
Learning is developing skills for dealing with complexity:
-thinking about several factors or views
-looking at a situation from different
-using systematic methods of analysis
-gathering evidence and supporting conclusions
-seeing strengths and limitations of analytic methods

Difficulties with:
Taking a position or choosing among alternatives.

4. Commitment In Relativism-
Constructed Knowledge
(knowledge as creative, critically-informed intersection of facts, experience, method)

View of Knowledge:
Knowledge is still contextual and relative, uncertain and tentative, yet it is possible to take positions, make choices, commit oneself.

View of Instructor:
A model of someone who is fully aware of uncertainty yet has the courage to make commitments.
Teaching is challenging and encouraging students to explore complexities fully and then to take a stand.

View of Learning:
Students seek understanding of complexities not just as academic pursuit but also in order to create a world view, one from which they will make commitments and choices.

1Mary Belenky, Blythe Clinchy, Nancy Goldberger, Jill Tarule, Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: HarperCollins, 1986).

This outline is adapted from a summary originally created by Erin Keys.

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