The passing of the past is…the gathering of what endures.
It is useful to think of two opposite frontiers when it comes to bodies of knowledge. One is the fringe and the other is the core: the gathering and the enduring.
As the fringe of any given body of knowledge stretches its boundaries, testing what may be useful or not, this frontier reaches out to grasp and incorporate knowledge which is valued into the field of study that body distinguishes. All along the frontier this type of gathering happens, with learners developing the field in this way. The fringe of the body of knowledge will bulge at places where particularly useful ideas are discovered and cluster, perhaps even shifting the entire body in the direction of certain knowledge as it becomes more fundamental to that field of study. During such shifts, it may grow larger, or it may simply sever past knowledge that no longer has any value.
Bodies of Knowledge are dynamic process in a constant state of becoming; like us, they exist in Time. The frontier of a body of knowledge never has immediate access to its own core. When learners study closer to the core, they are studying what is considered as foundational knowledge for that field, that which has been tested and incorporated from before; they are connecting with the
frontiers of before that have come from that distinction. As the past passes, a Distributed Body of Knowledge gathers information at the burning fringe of distinction to endure within this boundary – information that is constantly either being kept within and valued, or set-free
Snapshots of bodies of knowledge at particular points in time are useful; at that particular point in time, they can tell learners the degrees of value placed on knowledge that have made their way into this distinction. Such particular points show learners what information is worth being acquainted with if we want to dive into that body of knowledge, with all its viscosities. But, there is a need to understand the view of Bodies of Knowledge as Processes, because how a learner can best learn depends significantly on where their own experience positions them within that body. Learners initiating themselves closer to the core learn differently that those more actively commanding the body as process at the fringe. The educational structure needed for these two types of learners, and the spectrum throughout, differs, as do the media and technology that is best prescribed to create these structures. Relationship to the process of knowledge is one of the aspects that connectivist educators can use to create successful networks based on learner situation. The importance of viewing snapshot bodies of knowledge also as distinctive processes is not limited to Instructional Design benefits, however. There is also the matter of developing command.
A learner cannot simply one day adopt a form of life and start learning at the fringe of a body of knowledge, adequately asking relevant questions and judging results to filter which information is worth valuing in that particular field of study. There is a certain command that needs to develop within a relationship to a process of knowledge. To develop this command, learners build on previous practice, passing over time from core foundational knowledge to that fringe area position with their own gathered set of basics. Learners need to become acquainted with the enduring past so that this command at the fringe can help to maintain that body as process, refining it ever more representative of that field of study.
Today’s span of Distributed Knowledge is the key that allows for an emerging strength of command that has not been there in the past. Bodies of knowledge are easier to access and more transparent, affording learners a closer experience to real-time activity, monitoring and co-evolving with that body as process. This level of frequency also raises the need for acquaintance with the past and command of that process; disciplines that reflect real-time, for example Economics, are prone to instability and crash. Connecting with a body of knowledge in a way that recognizes it as a process is a way of gaining such needed command over a body. Now, I don’t mean command in any strict dictative way, language is not that powerful. A useful and excellent example of this process of development of command comes from Vygotsky.
In Mind in Society Vygotsky identifies a process where a child will internalize language. In drawing a picture, naming the picture initially comes after the fact for younger children; as time goes on and the child gains experience with that dynamic body of knowledge called Language, the act of naming occurs earlier and earlier in the process. Command of that body of knowledge occurs earlier and earlier; the child eventually becomes more of a commander when it started out as receiver to Language. When talk of how doctors or plumbers learn tend to only focus on only either the fringe or the core sides of educational learning, this process of becoming, and entering into a position of command is lost. It is unfortunate to see when this is instigated into an either/or debate, because both sides are essential in the development of this often empowering command. Also, connectivist approaches to education can benefit education throughout processes of knowledge, not only at the fringe. Connectivism should be promoting a liberation of privilege, not a shift.
The Vygotsky example is important because it is a clear one. It involves such a widely used, near basic medium like language, so there is little fluff surrounding the view of process structure that moves from core to fringe, from comandee to commander. To witness this happen over time in a son or daughter, or another close child, is an amazing thing. It is a development of the ability to think into the future, to judge potential, and to decide, reflecting what it means to become human, in our current era. This vivid example reveals a structured process that can internalize command over a body of knowledge or, possibly, what could be considered the development of the ability of unconditioned “choice”.
Think of command over a process of knowledge the same way that we can command a garden, to use a common metaphor these days. Gardeners do not dictate what plants should do, but intentionally create a context that can maximize or individualize growth, based on the environment, the seed and the gardener’s enduring knowledge of gardening. This command, then, can be understood at a higher level or wider systematic scope compared to the growing that actually takes place in that garden. The command looks at a larger context, remote from its results…similar to how command over educational structure or a network will produce learning that is intentional but natural, and similar to how command at the fringe of a process of knowledge will result in a remote field of study with a foundational core.
Without this view of processes of knowledge, an acceptance of lag between fringe and core, we potentially get what happened in Education for centuries: Fast Fringes and Crawling Cores that stretch further apart than our own human sense of Time can deal with. We are never at that level to directly control plants or cells or quarks or any object to do this or that as we want, but a garden is not a wild forest either. We gather the contextual environment for our potential plants, and embrace the rainbow of flowers that endure in the passing of the past…
…for the time being.