Landing : Athabascau University

Expertise and the Illusion of Knowledge

A post about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which basically claims (and, in a series of studies) demonstrates that ignorance is often typified not the absence of knowledge but by the illusion of it. People think they know more than they do and, at least in many cases, the less they know, the more they think they know. People as in us.

For teachers, this is one of the trickiest things to overcome when we want to give learners control: how do learners distinguish between ignorance and knowledge? If you do not know that you need to know more, you do not have the power nor motivation to take the steps to change that. The role of a teacher (whether an appointed individual or not) to challenge misconceptions and highlight ignorance is a crucial one.  But it should not be about proving or, worse still, telling someone less able than yourself that they are wrong: that's just a power trip. Ideally, learners should develop ways to uncover their own ignorance - to be surprised or confounded, to see their own mistakes - rather than have someone do it for them.  I think that this means that teachers, amongst other things, should create conditions for surprise to occur, opportunities to safely fail (without judgement), opportunities to reflect, and support for those seeking to uncover the cause of their new-found ignorance.


  • That reminds me of the proverb "He who knows not and knows not that he knows not...", time to teach the young crowd the old school thinking? Wink

    Viorel Tabara July 22, 2015 - 10:51pm

  • Alas, old school thinking got us to where we are today! There is a useful flip side to ignorance, though, that Clay Shirky explained wonderfully in the Bayesian advantage of youth. Sometimes - not often, but frequently enough to matter - it is useful not to be an expert because sometimes - not often - experts are wrong too. A tricky balance.

    Jon Dron July 23, 2015 - 9:41am

  • How many times has someone accomplished the impossible because they didn't know it was impossible?

    James Ronholm July 23, 2015 - 10:47am

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