By Miki Lane, ISPI Past President

Miki Lane“We are now at a point in time when the ability to receive, utilize, store, transform and transmit data–the lowest cognitive form–has expanded literally beyond comprehension. Understanding and wisdom are largely forgotten as we struggle under an avalanche of data and information.”
–Dee Hock

I saw this quote the other day (Dee Hock was the founder of Visa International and its CEO for many years) and thought how Benjamin Bloom was probably laughing (or crying) in his grave. For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Bloom’s work, I give you this Wikipedia excerpt:

“Bloom’s classification of educational objectives, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain (Bloom et al., 1956), addresses the cognitive domain (as opposed to the psychomotor and affective domains) of knowledge. Bloom’s taxonomy provides a structure in which to categorize instructional objectives and instructional assessment. He designed the taxonomy in order to help teachers and instructional designers classify instructional objectives and goals. The taxonomy relies on the idea that not all learning objectives and outcomes have equal merit. In the absence of a classification system (a taxonomy), teachers and instructional designers may choose, for example, to emphasize memorization of facts (which makes for easier testing) rather than emphasizing other (and likely more important) learned capabilities.”

While Bloom’s work has been shown to be lacking in many respects, (there has been a lot of discussion in ISPI about the validity of Bloom’s work) we do seem to believe there are two kinds of knowledge, Declarative and Procedural. Declarative knowledge relates to facts and information and procedural relates to task performance and application. Dee Hock’s quote seems to be referring to low-level declarative knowledge.

We have become a society obsessed with knowledge and the ability to have that level of knowledge available instantaneously at our fingertips. I remember about 30 years ago at a weekly gathering of my friends, we would, over a few beers, discuss our and the world’s situation. Any number of times when the discussion moved into an area that would benefit from additional information, we would say: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could instantly have the answer to these questions at our fingertips?” At best, we thought of starting a library-based service that you could call and within 24 hours you would get an answer to your questions. Thirty years later, the iPhone revolution allowed that to happen. Today, the same group of friends sit around on a Friday night, discuss each others’ week and punch in a few keywords to get answers to all of our questions. While the benefits of this knowledge availability is obvious, it also changes the sociability of the evening and points to larger social issues.

I don’t have an iPhone, and I feel like I am Kevin McCarthy in the 1956 movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except the movie I am trapped in is The Invasion of the Mind Snatchers. When a question is raised in the group, everyone but me turns to their iPhone and searches for the answer. Naturally, one answer leads to another, and I am soon surrounded by a group of people absorbed with their technology and not engaged with each other. Soon interesting facts come into discussion and answers to our questions appear. That’s positive, and by the way, there are many positive aspects of having this information quickly available. My concern is, as Dee Hock points out, that we are focusing too much on the lowest level of cognition, information. I see this with children, young adults, colleagues, and friends. As more and more information becomes available, and we have the capability to quickly access this information, we tend to lose sight of the other levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

I think this is a critical problem. As we move toward a “Jeopardy Nation” where knowledge and ability to access mounds of facts and information is valued, we lose the value and capability to engage in the procedural levels of knowledge. This is a symptom of the problems our greater societies face and where I see the importance of ISPI. This is a place of reflection, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (sorry for using some of Bloom’s terms). Let’s continue to be so. I challenge each and every one of you to openly discuss your ideas and make contributions to our field and our Society. Who knows, someday I might find a reference to your work and ideas on my iPhone 6 or 7.