Knowledge Vs Learning Part 1 – Theory



The separation of knowledge resources and learning objects has always been something which has caused problems for business and institutions in the past. In this series of blogposts I’m going to examine the integration of knowledge management and learning and development. In this first of three I will examine some of the principles and theories around knowledge and learning, and how their definitions have become more blurred.

Concept Barrier

I think the first barrier to integration of resources has always been the semantic difference between knowledge and learning, and how definitions have influenced the perception of how they should be organised.


1. knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.

2. the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.


1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation

2. familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning

The difference according to these definitions is fairly straightforward – it is a question of acquisition. Learning is the process by which information is acquired and then becomes knowledge. Unfortunately this is where the simplicity ends because in reality acquisition of knowledge is often very difficult to define or measure accurately.

There are thousands of complexities involving short and long term memory retention, aptitude, schema, cognitive models,  and so on that I won’t cover in this blog. In fact, using a dictionary to define knowledge and learning at all is a flawed argument, and ignores theories of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience as old as Aristotle. However for our limited purposes it will suffice and set the context for how common perception has divided these definitions and how technology is challenging how they should be defined.

Welcome to the Google Generation

There is still a common misconception that you have no knowledge until you have learnt something, which is actually only half true. You have no acquired knowledge, but there is no reason why you can’t access knowledge from another source.

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves,
or we know where we can find information upon it

-Samuel Johnson

We now have access to more information at our fingertips that has ever been imagined in history. We couldn’t possibly acquire all this knowledge, and why would we want to? Search engines have become so powerful that Samuel Johnson’s second kind of knowledge is now open to everyone. We are starting to value knowledge as being the tool with which we solve problems, rather than spending countless hours preparing ourselves by acquiring knowledge through learning.

And what happens when we access information, study it, and act on it? We learn. We start to acquire the most relevant knowledge from that we have accessed. We acquire it through repetition, experience, and application. The process of learning is part of the action of accessing information.


I would argue that the use of any capability to access information facilitates learning, as long as you accept that:

  1. You were motivated to access that information in some way.
  2. Your actions, or perspective, or memory have undergone a change as result.
We have already looked at how number 2 fits in nicely with most technology-managed information systems, now let’s look at another key factor which is more about the learning process – motivation. Whether it be intrinsic or extrinsic, a learner needs to be motivated to learn. Aimless accessing of information will not result in acquisition in any meaningful way. Luckily, most actions of accessing information are motivated adequately, although obviously some methods of motivation are better than others.

Where next?

This post helps to answer the first part of a larger question around the integration of learning and knowledge. It demonstrates that knowledge management is far more important to learning than simply being a resource. In fact, it can be more important than traditional learning activities in helping to develop learners. In my upcoming posts I will be discussing some basic principles of how to frame the integration Knowledge management and learning and development, and then sharing some best practice on how to actually implement them.

Join the conversation. Please comment or share your thoughts on knowledge management and learning 

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