The Value of Values

“Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to valued enterprises, such as singing in tune, discovering scientific facts, fixing machines, writing poetry, being convivial, growing up as a boy or a girl, and so forth.”
— Etienne Wenger about his Social Learning Theory

How do you define "knowledge?" It's a tricky question; be careful how you answer it. The ability to define knowledge also allows us to measure it. Exploring the many definitions of knowledge will be an interesting discussion for future posts. For now, I'd like to focus on a key aspect of knowledge embedded in Dr. Wenger's definition above: "valued enterprises."

You may have heard the quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, "Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

We prioritize incoming information as a culture, society, classroom, workplace and as individuals based on what we value.

Instructors who realize the impact of values on knowledge can prevent a student from feeling stupid when they do not measure up to their classmates. They can align or integrate the values of the student with the values of the curriculum to bridge the gap between the classroom's goals the student's.

Instructional designers, too, need to keep in mind that the values of the learner may not be the same as the designer, subject-matter experts, or project commissioners. Therefore, the learner’s willingness to increase or alter competence in an activity may not measure up to expectations. Next time you feel some resistance or lack of motivation from your learners, take a moment to consider whether there is a discrepancy of values.



Driscoll, M.P. (2005). Psuchology of Learning for Instruction, (3rd ed). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon Publishers, p.164  

What does success look like?

Workshopping Resilience