Baiyin Yang


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Baiyin Yang

  1. 1. Theory and Conceptual Articles 10.1177/1534484303254027 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING ARTICLE Toward a Holistic Theory of Knowledge and Adult Learning BAIYIN YANG University of Minnesota This article proposes a holistic theory of knowledge and adult learning. The theory posits that knowledge consists of three indivisible facets— explicit, implicit, and emancipatory knowledge, and that each of the knowledge facets consists of three layers—foundation, manifestation, and orientation. The holistic theory calls for a dialectical perspective about the dynamic relationships among the three facets to better understand learning. Three contemporary paradigms of knowledge and learning are examined under the perspective of the holistic theory. Keywords: adult learning; emancipatory knowledge; holistic theory; implicit knowledge; knowledge management; organizational learning; tacit knowledge To acknowledge what is known as known, and what is not known as not known is knowledge. —Confucius The concepts of knowledge and learning can be traced back to more than 2 thousand years ago in Confucius time. These two concepts are playing increasingly significant roles in the modern age as knowledge has become one of the crucial resources for wealth, and learning becomes an integrative component of the workplace. Learning is one of the key concepts in the fields of adult education and human resource development (HRD), and facilitating learning for individuals and organizations is one of the key roles for HRD professionals. After analyzing many different definitions of HRD, Gilley and Maycunich (2000) concluded that the field consists of three professional practice domains: organizational learning, performance, and change. Consequently, the principles of learning continue to be a central topic of the field (Swanson & Holton, 2001). Although adult learning has been defined in a variety of ways, most theorists have examined the concept of learning at the individual level. For examHuman Resource Development Review Vol. 2, No. 2 June 2003 106-129 DOI: 10.1177/1534484303254027 © 2003 Sage Publications 转载
  2. 2. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 107 ple, learning has been defined as “relatively permanent change in behavior, cognition, or affect that occur as a result of one’s interaction with the environment” (DeSimone, Werner, & Harris, 2002, p. 75). Because learning is central to both adult education and HRD, a number of theories and models of learning and teaching can be found in the literature. These models of learning and teaching are rooted in various epistemic beliefs (Pratt, 1998). Consequently, we need to examine the nature of knowledge to better understand the process of learning and facilitation of adult and organizational learning. According to Mezirow (1996), there are three major approaches to the nature of knowledge that have dominated the adult learning literature. The first approach is the Western rational tradition that constitutes an objective paradigm of learning. The objectivist paradigm, or sometimes called empiricalanalytic paradigm, encompasses a set of assumptions about reality and knowledge. Reality is believed to exist independently of mental representations of the world, and knowledge is thought to be objective. In this paradigm, “educational process is to transmit accurate representations of the real world, ideally established as such by scientific test” (p. 59). The second approach is the interpretist paradigm. This paradigm views knowledge as subjective and constructed from one’s experience within the frame of prior interpretation. Learning is a function of life and systems of language. The third approach, critical theory, views learning as a transformational process. Following Habermas (1971, 1984), scholars in adult education argued that the knowledge produced from the empirical–analytic tradition served the interests of professionalization and control, and that these interests are not emancipatory (Thompson & Schield, 1996; Wilson, 1993). From the perspective of critical theory, it is important to examine the power relationships in which knowledge is produced and whose interests are served. The three major approaches to knowledge (i.e., empirical–analytic, interpretive, and critical) have typified efforts to define the concept of knowledge from different perspectives. These perspectives have been shaped by the examination of a limited consideration of the nature of knowledge. In spite of the intense debates among scholars about the three perspectives, little has been focused on how to bring about an integration of these different approaches (Merriam, 1991). Very few efforts have been made to explore the nature of knowledge and relationships among the three perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to propose a holistic theory of knowledge and adult learning by bridging the previously unconnected areas of knowledge and learning. As it is conceptualized here, the theory posits that knowledge consists of three indivisible facets: explicit, implicit, and emancipatory, and that it is more important to examine the dynamic interactions among the three facets to better understand adult learning. Furthermore, the theory suggests that each of the three existing paradigms has established its foundation on one knowledge facet and fails to recognize
  3. 3. 中国科技论文在线 108 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 such dynamic relationships. An integrative perspective emerges as the result of interrelationships among three knowledge facets. A Theoretical Framework of Knowledge and Learning Knowledge as a Construct Comprises Three Facets The previously mentioned three paradigms view knowledge as something in the world, either objectively representing reality or subjectively existing in human beings. To overcome the dichotomy of objectivity and subjectivity, this article argues that we should take a holistic perspective. We frequently hear a saying: “you need to look on the other side of the coin.” In fact, there are three sides of a coin: head, tail, and edge. This analogy applies to the concept of knowledge. Knowledge as a social construct has three facets. Knowledge is defined as human beings’ understanding about the reality through mental correspondence, personal experience, and emotional affection with outside objects and situations. This definition of knowledge has the following implications. First, knowledge can only be demonstrated as human beings’ understanding of the reality. Therefore, knowledge as a social construct does not exist in certain static state, and it is the outcome of the interaction between human beings and the outside world. Second, knowledge is learned and accumulated through personal and social life experiences. Knowledge is seen as being shaped by both personal inner factors and outside environmental factors. Third, there are at least three channels that link an individual’s inner state to outside reality: mental, behavioral, and emotional processes. The facets of knowledge are different aspects of the way in which we know the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual world. We learn not only through mental correspondence but also by direct personal involvement. We also know things through our emotions. Because any knowing involves a person or any organic entity (knower), these three knowing processes are seen as involved and they are interrelated. Consequently, knowledge has three distinct but interrelated facets: explicit, implicit, and emancipatory knowledge. That is to say, knowledge facets reflect the different processes of knowing. The explicit facet consists of the cognitive component of knowledge that represents one’s understandings about reality. Explicit knowledge refers to clear and certain mental apprehension that is transmittable in formal and systematic format. It is codified knowledge that identifies true from false in the reality. It is part of the technical knowledge that reflects one’s intentional and conscious effort to understand reality to meet his or her individual needs. Theories, models, and formulas in textbooks are examples of explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge itself is useful to a cer-
  4. 4. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 109 tain extent, but it fails to offer a complete picture of the concept of knowledge. It cannot capture the complexity of some ambiguous problems. For example, when we have some health issues and need to find a medical doctor, we don’t normally pay much attention to the physician’s grade point average (GPA) achievement in medical school. Even though a high GPA in the professional school may indicate that the doctor performed well academically, it only shows how well the doctor may have learned content in the domain of explicit knowledge. Equally important to us is the doctor’s professional experience and practical expertise. The implicit or tacit facet is the behavioral component of knowledge that denotes the learning that is not openly expressed or stated. In most cases, we know more than we think we know (Polanyi, 1967). Implicit knowledge is personal, context-specific familiarity, or the familiarity that has yet to be articulated, and therefore hard to formalize and communicate. It speaks to us if something works or not in reality based on direct observation or involvement. Implicit knowledge usually comes from and exits in one’s behavior, action, and accumulated experiences. However, experience itself cannot automatically become valid implicit knowledge. Only the learning and familiarity evolved from experience that has been confirmed can be viewed as knowledge. Research has suggested that unconscious thoughts and actions can be developed, received, stored, and recovered without the involvement of conscious awareness (Dienes & Perner, 1999). Such unconscious thoughts can be viewed as implicit knowledge. Eraut (2000) identified three types of tacit knowledge in professional work: tacit understanding of people and situations, routinized actions, and the tacit rules that underpin intuitive decision making. Lubit (2001) categorized four types of tactic knowledge: hard to pin down skills such as know-how, mental models, ways of approaching problems, and organizational routines. With regard to the previously mentioned medical case, the doctor’s professional experience and practical expertise comprise implicit knowledge. Therefore, we want to visit a doctor with adequate explicit and implicit knowledge. Nevertheless, we will probably still hesitate to visit a doctor when he or she is competent in only these areas. Equally important for most patients is a doctor’s personal care of clients, professional integrity, and interpersonal communication skills. The emancipatory facet is the affective component of knowledge and is reflected in affective reactions to the outside world. Emancipatory knowledge is emotional affection, and thus it is value-laden. It is indicated by feelings and emotions people have in relation to the objects and situations around them. Emancipatory knowledge defines one’s view about what the world should be, and it is the product of one’s efforts to seek freedom from natural and social restraints. It reflects one’s internal affective and motivational states. Bornstein (1999) maintained that a comprehensive theory of
  5. 5. 中国科技论文在线 110 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 knowledge must incorporate motivation and feeling states in addition to explicit and implicit knowledge. Going back to the medical case, a doctor’s personal care of clients, professional integrity, and interpersonal communication skills precisely define his or her emancipatory knowledge in the profession. This holistic theory of knowledge posits that all of the three facets are present in all adult-learning processes, even though not all of them need to experience a change. For example, knowledge facets can be identified in a training session for customer service professionals. Principles and techniques of enhancing customer service that have been identified by other experts and presented in the training session constitute explicit knowledge. The participants/practitioners in attendance bring their experiences and personal insights into the training session that illustrate their implicit knowledge of customer service. Because a trainer cannot expect every participant to have the same perception of the training contents, implicit knowledge also includes those individual understandings of the same concept. Lastly, motivations for learning, personal goals and objectives, codes of professional ethics, and shared visions for the training tend to reflect participants’ efforts to free themselves from certain constraints and thus constitute emancipatory knowledge. Consequently, the holistic theory of knowledge and learning suggests that an effective training program involves all of the three knowledge facets. Learning occurs when one or more facets of knowledge change. Furthermore, the holistic theory calls for a dialectical perspective of the three knowledge facets. On one hand, we need to acknowledge some intrinsically different characteristics of the three knowledge facets. If we examine each of the three knowledge facets at a time, they tend to be different and contradictory. The results will be like observing different faces of a coin. On the other hand, we should understand the complementary nature of these three knowledge facets. They are interacting with each other and indivisible when we take a holistic perspective. They occur by default whether we recognize them or not. All of the three facets are necessary components of the whole. To get a holistic perspective, the following sections will first discuss different characteristics of the three knowledge facets and then describe the complimentary nature of the facets. Characteristics of the Three Knowledge Facets The differences among the three facets of knowledge have both theoretical and practical importance. Table 1 compares the three facets of knowledge and their related characteristics. Explicit knowledge is based on the separation of object and subject, and it serves for the interest of rationality. Implicit knowledge is established on the interrelation between object and
  6. 6. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 111 subject, and thus it is simultaneous and analog knowledge. The emancipatory facet is essential and vital knowledge that defines the meaning of an object within a subject. Broadly speaking, these three facets represent three different domains of knowledge. The explicit facet is digital knowledge and represents theory. The implicit facet is analog knowledge and thus can be found in practice. The emancipatory facet is vital knowledge and within the spiritual domain. These three facets are different not only in nature, function, domain, and approach, but also in carriers, direct sources, evaluation criteria, and ultimate goals. The explicit facet is within the domain of theory and thus carried by various formal, abstract symbols, languages, and formulas. Theories, models, formulas, principles, textbooks, and journal articles are examples of explicit knowledge. For instance, my 14-year-old daughter could read most of the words and sentences with this article but had a hard time understanding the theory I am building. This was not caused by her reading ability (i.e., to understand the explicit facet of this theory), but largely owing to her insufficient background in two other facets. The implicit facet is within the domain of practice and carried by informal, concrete, and vivid experiences. Implicit knowledge was valued before modern age when people learned by doing in authentic situations. The emancipatory facet is within the domain of human spirit and carried by values, conscience, dignity, and ethics. These carriers of knowledge facets can be regarded as three types of human knowledge as they serve different purposes. However, a clear separation of the knowledge facets will result in an incomplete understanding of reality. The explicit knowledge cannot be tested if it is separate from practice. The explicit facet will become meaningless abstraction if it lacks a link with the human spirit domain. The implicit facet will become insignificant practice without the support of emancipatory knowledge. It cannot be constructed as a powerful and robust knowledge base without the support of explicit knowledge. For example, it was Newton who constructed a theory of gravity though many others could have had intuitive knowledge that apples gravitate toward earth. Those who may have had implicit knowledge of gravity would not be able to apply the theory, gravity across different situations, without a clear articulation of the explicit knowledge. The direct source for explicit knowledge is logic and reasoning, and it is judged by the criteria of empirical soundness, clarity, and consistency. It is established on what is judged to be true in the world. Explicit knowledge seeks truth and efficiency, and it tends to search for a single solution—an action that maximizes its satisfaction or utility. This facet of knowledge is facilitated by analytical intelligence and measured by conventional intelligence tests. The implicit (or tacit) knowledge derives directly from practice, experience, and familiarity. It needs to be practical and communicative across situations. This facet of knowledge aims for reality, and it focuses on
  7. 7. 中国科技论文在线 112 TABLE 1: Holistic Theory of Knowledge and Learning: Comparison of Three Knowledge Facets Knowledge Facets Characteristics Nature Function Explicit Knowledge of rationality (mind) Sequential knowledge (there and then) Domain Digital knowledge (theory) Approach Separation of object and subject (objective) Carrier Formal, abstract symbols & languages Direct source Logic, reasoning Evaluation criteria Empirically sound, clear, and consistency (true or false) Ability to learn Analytical intelligence Goal Truth Efficiency Maximize Problem nature Structured Related theory Prescriptive Research tool Empirical-analytic Research domain Cognition (thinking) Implicit Knowledge of experience (body) Simultaneous knowledge (here and now) Analog knowledge (practice) Interrelated object and subject (subjective) Informal, concrete, and vivid experiences Practice, experience Workable, practical, communicative (workable or not) Practical intelligence Reality Effectiveness Artistic Less-structured Heuristic Experiential-interpretive Behavior (action) Emancipatory Knowledge of meaning (heart) Essential knowledge (where and why) Vital knowledge (spirit) Object within subject (affective) Values, conscience, dignity, & ethics Freedom, justice Enlightening, ethical, responsible (right or wrong) Emotional intelligence Liberty Significance Empowering Nonstructured Descriptive Critical-reflective Affect (emotion)
  8. 8. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 113 the effectiveness that normally requires artistic instead of scientific solutions. The ability to acquire implicit knowledge can be viewed as practical intelligence (Sternberg, 1985, 1997). People do not just know through thinking or doing, they also acquire knowledge with their emotions and feelings. Emancipatory knowledge includes human beings’ pursuit of freedom and justice, which is advanced by values, assumptions, and ethics. In the quest for liberty and empowerment, emancipatory knowledge is normally evaluated by intellectual illumination and ethical responsibility. This facet of knowledge can also be facilitated and indicated by emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995, 1996). Goleman noted that people with higher emotional intelligence tend to “have a notable capacity for commitment to people or causes, for taking responsibility, and for having an ethical outlook; they are sympathetic and caring in their relationships” (1995, p. 45). Researchers and theorists often tend to view the concept of knowledge from one perspective or another. Moreover, academic fields and related literatures have been divided into camps of so-called paradigms. Scholars tend to conduct their discourses within one camp or take only one perspective for the sake of consistency. Those who place their emphasis on explicit knowledge tend to examine relatively structured problems, use empirical-analytic tools of research, and build prescriptive theories and models. Those who accept the implicit nature of knowledge look at less-structured problems with experiential–interpretive tools, and their research outputs appear as heuristic theories and interpretations. Finally, those who contend that emancipatory knowledge is vital for any sort of learning use such research tools as critical reflection or participatory approach to probe nonstructured problems, and their outcomes are normally descriptive. From a research perspective, the three facets of knowledge represent three domains of study: cognition (explicit), behavior (implicit), and affect (emancipatory). Each of the three domains reflects a long history of interest of investigation along the lines of thinking, action, and emotion, respectively. Complexity of the Three Knowledge Facets Knowledge is a complex concept and even one knowledge facet within the same domain may have different characteristics and functions. The construct of knowledge consists not only of the three facets but also of three knowledge layers. The knowledge layers include: foundation, manifestation, and orientation. The first layer is a stratum of foundation or premise, which is the basis for our knowing and determines the boundary of explicit knowledge. We have to accept certain assumptions to know and act. For example, some learners may assume that instructions from an authority in an academic discipline are true across situations and should be followed in
  9. 9. 中国科技论文在线 114 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 their professional practice. This layer indicates our epistemological beliefs. The second layer is manifestation that represents the outcomes of our knowing. For example, we know certain instructional techniques work well for certain types of learners. The third layer is the orientation of our knowing that defines the direction and tendency of knowing action. The three knowledge facets each have three different layers within their domains. Table 2 describes indicators of the three layers across the three facets. Explicit knowledge is established on certain axioms, assumptions, beliefs, and hypotheses, and it moves toward rational thinking. Theories, principles, conceptual models or frameworks, conceptual frameworks, and formulas manifest this facet of knowledge. The role of knowledge foundation is different from its outcome or manifestation. We have to accept certain assumptions simply because we cannot test or verify them. For example, geometry has to assume the property of two parallel lines. Even though people tend to intuitively accept one assumption that two parallel lines never cross each other, no matter how long they can be extended, no one has drawn them into infinity to prove that this assumption can be held. Nevertheless, accepting or rejecting such an assumption can lead to different outcomes, Euclidian or non-Euclidian geometry. Similarly, implicit knowledge has three layers: foundation or basis, manifestation, and orientation. Implicit knowledge is established on the basis of habits, social norms, traditions, and routines. When we accept those that have worked well in our previous experiences or those demonstrated by others without much thinking, we are accumulating tacit knowledge. This knowledge facet is driven toward practical action and manifested by tacit understandings, technical know-how, mental models, and intuitive decisions. A force of being practical determines its orientation. Emancipatory knowledge facet also has three layers: foundation or basis, manifestation, and orientation. At the foundation or basis layer, indicators for emancipatory knowledge include values, personal aspirations, and perceived ideals for people and society (i.e., vision). At the manifestation layer, attitudes, motivations, learning needs, equity (i.e., perceived fairness and justice), ethic behaviors, and moral standards appear. At the orientation layer, emancipatory knowledge is driven by inherent forces of seeking freedom from any social and natural constrains and ideal of social justice. Learning as Dynamic Interactions Among Knowledge Facets Although the differences among the three facets of knowledge have long been recognized, few scholars have examined their unitary nature and their dynamic relationships. Even though knowledge facets may come from different sources and develop toward diverse directions, as previously discussed, none of them can be simply dismissed. A holistic theory must incor-
  10. 10. 中国科技论文在线 TABLE 2: Holistic Theory of Knowledge and Learning: Indications of Three Knowledge Facets and Three Knowledge Layers Knowledge Facets Knowledge Layers Foundation Manifestation Orientation Explicit Axioms, assumptions, beliefs, hypotheses Theories, principles, models, conceptual frameworks, formulas Rational Implicit Emancipatory Habits, social norms, traditions, routines Tacit understandings, know-how, intuition, mental models Values, aspirations, vision Practical Freedom Attitudes, motivations, learning needs, equity, ethics, moral standards 115
  11. 11. 中国科技论文在线 116 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 porate all of the knowledge facets. Each of the three facets of knowledge provides a support needed for the other facets to exist. Explicit knowledge will exist only as meaningless facts, figures, or bytes of information without the support of other facets (i.e., when two other facets are disconnected). We normally use “body of knowledge” to denote theories, models, and empirical findings but fail to realize that these things only represent explicit facet of knowledge. From the perspective of the holistic theory, theories and models themselves are not knowledge per se. They are carriers or indications of explicit knowledge, and they become available information when human factors are detached. As Davenport and Prusak (1998) noted, information itself is not knowledge. Thus, the term knowledge base is a better term to represent explicit knowledge such as theories and models in textbooks. One cannot simply learn a great deal of robust knowledge in a profession by memorizing all theories and models (i.e., explicit knowledge) in the chosen professional field without adequate associations to a practice-based context to gain adequate implicit knowledge. By the same token, emancipatory knowledge that defines the objectives and missions that guide our actions also influence learning. Implicit knowledge also connects with the two other facets. It will appear as random, idiosyncratic, and isolated practical experiences without the support from two other facets. One can learn a great deal of technical knowhow (i.e., implicit knowledge) about fixing a car through trial-and-error and learning by doing on one’s own. However, such knowledge about the passenger vehicle is limited and may not work well with other cars. A competent auto mechanic needs to have some basic understanding of scientific principles and engineering specifications (i.e., explicit knowledge) of an automobile’s engine and other components. The third facet, emancipatory knowledge, also influences the learning, because it determines the motivation of learning and career direction in the vocation. Similarly, emancipatory knowledge will be simply emotion or affection when the explicit and implicit facets are removed in the learning process. The different terms used in the previous paragraphs and characteristics are divided and examined just for the purpose of discourse, and they are explicit writings with rational interest. In reality, a robust piece of knowledge consists of three interrelated facets. A holistic view of knowledge should be a dynamic dialectic among all three facets. Consideration of these facets of knowledge can be facilitated by thinking of them as angles of an equilateral triangle with the angle of the triangle being the different facets of knowledge. The area inside of the triangle can be regarded as the arena of knowledge, and the sides of the triangle represent interactions among the facets. Even though educators and scholars can view the concept of knowledge from one of the angles and work on a particular side, there is always the influence of the other two angles in the arena. Each
  12. 12. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 117 of the angles is bounded by two angles and shaped by the inputs and influences from the other facets of knowledge. Learning can start in one of the facets, and educators and learners can, consciously or unconsciously, move toward one of the directions characterized by the knowledge facets. However, any change of one facet is always bounded by both of the other facets. The dynamic relationships among the knowledge facets and related learning modes are presented in Figure 1. The three circles in the figure represent the knowledge facets, and the lines with arrows refer to the interaction between the facets. It is assumed that knowledge is created and transformed through the interactions among explicit, implicit, and emancipatory knowledge. These relations allow us to draw at least nine modes of learning: participation, conceptualization, contextualization, systematization, validation, legitimization, transformation, interpretation, and materialization. It is possible that a number of interactions are involved in a learning situation. For the purpose of clarity, it is necessary to describe them one by one in a linear fashion. Learning occurs as a result of interactions within each of and among the three knowledge facets. Learning can start in any of three knowledge facets and in different forms. Learning may involve one, two, or all of the three knowledge facets. Learning is defined as the process whereby knowledge is created, acquired, transformed, converted, or utilized in a different context from its origin. Knowledge creation is a learning process where new understanding (in either of three facets) about reality is formed. For example, theory building is a knowledge creation process that normally results in a new format of explicit knowledge. Knowledge acquisition such as attending a lecture is also a learning process where a learner gains knowledge from another source in the original form. Knowledge transformation refers to a process where the learning outcome is a new format of knowledge. For instance, research seminars and symposiums are sometimes very powerful in transforming the participants’ knowledge to a greater understanding on the topic. Knowledge conversion refers to the exchange from one knowledge facet to another, and the following paragraphs will discuss different forms of knowledge conversion in detail. Finally, knowledge utilization can also be viewed as learning when a learner applies it in a different context from its original and gains new understanding about the problem facing him or her. In sum, learning involves all of three knowledge facets and appears in different forms. Participation is a process of learning from practice and thereby creating implicit knowledge from experiences. Although a learner can build implicit knowledge directly from experience, differences between implicit knowledge and experience should be acknowledged. Experience refers to something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through. Although experience provides a basis for implicit knowledge, experience does not
  13. 13. 中国科技论文在线 118 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 Transformation Le giti mi zat ion Explicit Knowledge n atio aliz teri Ma tion reta erp Int Va lida tion Emancipatory Knowledge Contextualization Implicit Knowledge Conceptualization Systematization Participation FIGURE 1: Holistic Theory of Knowledge and Learning: Dynamic Relationships of Three Knowledge Facets and Implied Modes of Learning automatically become implicit knowledge. Participation is a process of gaining knowledge through personal direct experience. The direct outcomes of participation are conscious and unconscious mental models, and technical skills such as know-how. Many forms of learning such as apprenticeship, demonstrations, case studies, coaching, mentoring, on-job-training, handson-training, nonformal learning, and reflection-in-action fall into this mode of learning. Personal participation in individual and social activities will always result in implicit learning, which, in turn, develops intuitive (or tacit) knowledge. Psychological studies have shown that such knowledge is optimally acquired independent of conscious efforts to learn, and it can be effectively used to solve problems and make decisions (Gerholm, 1990; Reber, 1989). As a new faculty member in a research university, I learned about my role of teaching and research largely from the process of socialization and direct participation. Although I also learned about my role and responsibilities partly from the faculty handbook (as explicit knowledge), personal participation and socialization tend to be more effective in such situations.
  14. 14. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 119 Conceptualization is a process of articulating implicit knowledge into explicit concepts. It converts familiarities into tangible explanations by proposing new concepts or theories. It is a quintessential knowledge-creation process in that implicit knowledge becomes explicit, taking forms of metaphors, analogies, concepts, hypotheses, or models (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). For example, a professional may summarize what has been learned from practice, reflect on the literature in the field, and write up a scholarly article for publication. Other professionals in the field then can learn from such explicit knowledge. Examples of this learning mode are: brainstorming, critical questioning, discussion, reflection-on-action, self-reflection, hypothesis development, and summative evaluation. The development of many wonderful theories and concepts in social and natural sciences demonstrates brilliant application of conceptualization. Before Isaac Newton, human beings had noticed that apples always drop from trees but few questioned the underlying reason. It was possible that people may have explored the reason and recognized a certain force that pulls apples from trees to the earth but failed to articulate that force well. It was Newton who developed the concept of gravity and even deduced a law that governs the relationship between two objects in the universe. This conceptualization process is so powerful that it captures the essence of human beings’ intuitive knowledge and extends such implicit knowing to broader contexts such as the relation between the earth and the moon. Contextualization is a process of embodying explicit knowledge into implicit knowledge. It is the process of utilizing concepts, models, formulas, principles, and propositions in a specific context. A teacher is in this learning mode when he or she examines the appropriateness of a newly developed teaching method in his or her classroom. Because there may be countless factors that affect the decision to adopt the new method, and the person who developed the method cannot anticipate all possible applicable situations, the teacher may not be able to clearly state the rationale and the process of such decision. Therefore, such a learning process that involves action or behavior will always bring about a change of implicit knowledge. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) thought that this is an internalization process. Internalization tends to be a narrow definition because it refers to a learning process of embodying explicit knowledge created by others. Contextualization includes learning processes of making sense of previous experience or reexperiencing other people’s experiences. Examples of this learning mode include: action learning, internship, formative evaluation, learning-bydoing, examination of case story, role-play, and simulation. Systematization is a process of systematizing explicit conceptions into a system with logic and reasoning. This learning mode generally involves combining different bodies of explicit knowledge in a consistent format. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) termed this process as combination. People
  15. 15. 中国科技论文在线 120 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 exchange and combine explicit knowledge through such forms as seminars, debates, literature critiques, conferences, symposiums, and competencebased-training. As it has been mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the most useful learning tools in the systematization process are logic and reasoning. Validation is a process of examining and possibly modifying underlying values, desires, judgments, perceived importance and worth, and other kinds of fundamental learning based on explicit knowledge (which is believed to be true under a rational perspective). Mezirow (1996) suggested that we establish validity either by empirically testing to determine the truth or by appealing to tradition, authority, or rational discourse. He contends, “Discourse allows us to test the validity of our beliefs and interpretations” (p. 165). Employee orientation and correctional education are two examples of this learning mode. Correctional education is designed for offenders in a program of treatment and rehabilitation for the purpose of improving their emancipatory knowledge. Legitimization is a process of justifying explicit knowledge based on emancipatory knowledge. For instance, many higher education institutions changed admission regulations after the civil rights movement owing to changes in the social value system. Examples of this learning process are: debate, forum and panel discussion, community meetings, critical thinking, and team building. DeSimone et al. (2002) acknowledged that part of a team building effort is to unify varied individual energies (from emancipatory domain) and direct these energies toward valued individual and organizational objectives (i.e., explicit knowledge). At the individual learning level, legitimization tends to be invisible, but plays an important role in the learning process. In other words, our value system (i.e., emancipatory knowledge) legitimates our beliefs (i.e., explicit knowledge). I cannot understand some common football terminologies due to personal lack of interest in the game of football. More important, emancipatory knowledge may facilitate or deter the acceptance of explicit knowledge. In a high profile murder case, the prosecution stated that the blood and other evidence proved that the defender was the murderer, although the defense contended that such evidence was contaminated and/or planted (CNN, n.d.). The jurors in the case, however, were split along racial lines and consequently believed one theory or the other. This case demonstrates that emancipatory knowledge can play a crucial role in learning, because it can cause one to accept, deny, or reject certain explicit knowledge. Transformation is a process of converting an old meaning scheme (i.e., values, feelings, ethics, etc.) into another form. It should be noted that transformative learning does not necessary occur in a positive direction. Some life experiences may bring about learning with a negative interpretation (Merriam, Mott, & Lee, 1996). The key to understanding such a compli-
  16. 16. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 121 cated learning process lies in its inherent force of seeking physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual freedom and in the interactions between emancipatory knowledge and the two knowledge facets. Examples of this learning mode are: nonviolence action, self-reflection, and participatory study. Materialization is a process of transferring emancipatory knowledge into implicit knowledge. Those who utilize what has been learned from participatory action research to improve the quality of their daily life are in the process of materialization. Examples of this learning mode include: action learning, community development, and task force. In a typical educational program for community development, participants work on consensus values and development of shared vision (i.e., starting from emancipatory knowledge) and then take individual actions accordingly (i.e, at the implicit level). Interpretation is a process of making a meaning scheme from tacit learning and direct experiences. People are often empowered and have a new look about life through their involvement in participatory action research, and this is an example of the learning process of interpretation. Critical questioning and conscious awareness technique are two examples of this learning mode as the ultimate outcome is aimed at changing emancipatory knowledge. Learners may interpret the same life experience differently. One longitudinal study shows that adult life experiences can result in diverse development outcomes (Merriam & Yang, 1996). For example, those who have experienced a period of unemployment have expressed more sensitivity to social and economic inequality. However, they felt marginalized, vulnerable, and controlled by external forces. The results suggest that those who experienced unemployment had different interpretations of personal agency and perceived different social issues from those who never had such experiences. Under the perspective of the holistic theory, perceived individual freedom and social justice may cause the reason for such ambivalent interpretations of life experiences as well (i.e., under the influence of orientation layer within emancipatory knowledge). Learning as a Social Activity The previous paragraphs have examined the nature of knowledge and how learning takes place at the individual level. Learning is an individual and social process as well. Few learning actions happen as exclusively individual activities. We should acknowledge the interactions between adult learning and social or cultural contexts. Figure 2 illustrates a conceptual framework that depicts the interrelationships between individual learning and social or cultural contexts. The framework consists of two rings. The inner ring represents individual learning, whereas the outside ring indicates
  17. 17. 中国科技论文在线 122 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 Critical Knowledge Emancipatory Knowledge Individual Explicit Knowledge Implicit Knowledge Technical Knowledge Practical Knowledge Social Group/ Organization External Social, Cultural, Political and Technological Environment FIGURE 2: Holistic Theory of Knowledge and Learning: Dynamic Relationships Between Individual, Organization and Social/Cultural Contexts the dynamic relationships among dominated knowledge of a social group or an organization that an individual belongs to. In most learning situations, the learner is interacting with his or her immediate social group or organization within certain social or cultural contexts. To function well, a group or organization has to have three major components—critical knowledge, technical knowledge, and practical knowledge. The totality of emancipatory knowledge of organizational members constitutes critical knowledge for the organization or a group of people. For example, values and visions of an organization represent shared preferences
  18. 18. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 123 of organizational members and thus indicate the critical knowledge of the organization. Values explain much variance in organizational processes because they predict many outcome variables such as innovation and performance (Connor & Becker, 1975). The sum of implicit knowledge of organizational members makes up practical knowledge. Practical knowledge exists in organizational processes and practices. Similarly, any organization has certain technical knowledge that represents those believed to be true explicit knowledge by its members and has been incorporated into its system. Technical knowledge normally exists in systems and structures. From the perspective of holistic theory, group learning can be defined as a process of change in the dimensions of collective beliefs (i.e., shared technical knowledge), social norms (i.e., prevalent practical knowledge), and shared values (i.e., dominant critical knowledge) among group members. Viewing learning as a social activity has several important implications. First of all, it allows us to better understand learning at different levels. Individual knowledge is quite different from group, organizational knowledge or societal knowledge (Lyles & Schwenk, 1992; Tsoukas & Vladimirou, 2001). Lyles and Schwenk (1992) contended that organizational knowledge is very different from individual knowledge, because it is socially constructed and relies on consensus or agreement. Even though organizational knowledge and societal knowledge generally reflect individual knowledge of its members, they are not always consistent. Because knowledge from different individuals may not be homogenous, it is very important to identify the processes and mechanisms where individual knowledge becomes leading or dominant knowledge in an organization or at society’s level. The framework presented in Figure 2 suggests dynamic relations between individual and group/organizational knowledge. It echoes one assertion that organizational learning is not simply the sum of what individuals are learning but more than that (Easterby-Smith, Crossan, & Nicolini, 2000). Under the perspective of the holistic theory suggested in Figure 2, organizational knowledge can be viewed as collective understandings among members through their technical, practical, and emancipatory facets of knowledge. Organizational learning involves changes of technical, social, and political dimensions of the organization. Lyles and Schwenk (1992) suggested, “Changes in the organizational knowledge structure occur as a result of the impact of the interpretation of environmental events, results of past organizational actions, the influence of the key decision-makers, and the advocacy position of coalitions within the firm” (p. 158). Second, the framework presented in Figure 2 has implications for organizational learning. Crosssan, Lane, and White (1999) observed that a general theory had yet to be developed and validated, even though interest in organizational learning had grown dramatically. They proposed one of the most comprehensive frameworks of organizational learning that includes four
  19. 19. 中国科技论文在线 124 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 processes: intuiting, interpreting, integrating, and institutionalizing. Intuiting refers to the subconscious process of developing insights, and thus similar to the concept of participation suggested by the holistic theory. The inputs of the intuiting are experiences and images, whereas the outcomes are metaphors. Therefore, the intuiting process can be viewed as part of participation to gain implicit knowledge at the individual level. Interpreting in Crosssan et al.’s (1999) framework represents an individual learning process of picking up on the conscious elements and developing cognitive maps. This process is similar to conceptualization included in the holistic theory. Nevertheless, the outcomes of the interpreting are limited to cognitive domain, and thus the affective domain has been ignored. According to the holistic theory, organizational learning needs to start from the individual level but does not have to be limited to the implicit domain. Integrating in Crosssan et al.’s (1999) framework refers to shared understanding by group members that results in coherent, collective actions. This learning process reflects the dynamic relationships between individual and group knowledge and thus can be understood as the interactions between the two rings in Figure 2. However, the holistic theory suggests that integrating individual knowledge does not always occur in the cognitive domain and at system level of an organization. An organization can integrate individuals’ implicit knowledge such as insights and technical know-how, particularly those hard to be expressed in formal language and symbols, by promoting and encouraging socialization among members. Similarly, an organization can integrate individuals’ emancipatory knowledge into its values and consequently change its critical knowledge. Institutionalizing in Crosssan et al.’s (1999) framework referred to a learning process in which organizations transfer individual and group learning and embed such learning in the systems, structure, strategy, rules, and procedures. Consequently, institutionalizing indicates the change of organizational technical knowledge (carried by systems and structure) as a result of the changes of practical knowledge (carried by processes and practices) and individual knowledge. Because Crosssan et al.’s (1999) framework did not distinguish three domains of organizational knowledge; it fails to capture some of the key organizational learning activities. For example, the holistic theory suggests that changing an organization’s values and visions is a vital learning process and that it’s critical knowledge that interacts with individual shared values and critical knowledge. Rules and procedures can be institutionalized but cannot guarantee the desired change and the coherence of individual values. Many organizations have established their values and visions, but they stay only as slogans on walls and fail to be incorporated in daily practice owing the incongruence with employees’ critical knowledge. The holistic theory presented in Figure 2 provides a relatively clear
  20. 20. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 125 picture of the dynamic relationships between individual and organizational learning. Third, the framework presented in Figure 2 offers valuable insights to study learning organizations. The concept of the learning organization has received much attention in HRD literature, but few theories in this area have clearly identified organizational knowledge. According to Watkins and Marsick (1993, 1996), learning organizations should be built at individual, team, and organization-wide levels. As a social entity, an organization learns as a result of changes in its three knowledge domains (i.e., corresponding to its collective value and vision, system and structure, and process and practice). The conceptual framework presented in Figure 2 not only clearly identifies three major knowledge domains, but it also delineates their functions and dynamic relationships. Findings from a case study of strategic organizational learning by Thomas, Sussman, and Henderson (2001) tended to support the dynamic relationships among different knowledge domains. It was confirmed that rich experience was the creating source of diverse meanings and assimilation of tacit knowledge. Organizational learning processes were characterized by knowledge acquisition, interpretation, validation, and assimilation across multiple levels of the organization. A detailed discussion on the implications of the holistic theory for organizational learning and knowledge management is beyond the limited scope of this article. However, the dynamic relationships among the three knowledge facets at the individual level are applicable at the organizational level. For example, employees’ perceived justice (i.e., individual emancipatory knowledge under a strong influence of collective critical knowledge) might facilitate or inhibit knowledge sharing (Lubit, 2001). In summary, the holistic theory proposed in this article suggests that knowledge is a three faceted social construct. To understand the nature of knowledge and the processes of adult and organizational learning, we need not only to acknowledge different characteristics of three knowledge facets, but also to recognize the dynamic relationships among them. Learning can be understood as a change in one or more facets in the dynamic relationships within social and cultural contexts. Contemporary Paradigms in the View of the Holistic Theory There has been a great deal of discussion about the paradigms of learning and research (Merriam, 1991; Mezirow, 1996). From the perspective of the proposed holistic theory of knowledge and learning, contemporary paradigms have evolved with emphasis on one facet of knowledge or another. The positivist or objectivist paradigm posits that only the explicit facet is
  21. 21. 中国科技论文在线 126 Human Resource Development Review / June 2003 valid knowledge (Searle, 1993). Learning occurs as learners relate concepts descriptive of the new knowledge to previous knowledge within their cognitive structure. The integration of new and previous knowledge occurs through changes in the learners’ conceptual structure. Concepts are developed and stored in a hierarchical structure. The positivist paradigm assumes that human beings are rational and take action based on explicit knowledge. The essential element of the rationality is a conscious goal and the best action selected from all relevant alternatives that maximize the promise of reaching that goal. Nevertheless, because of much emphasis on explicit or technical knowledge, this perspective might ignore or pay less attention to the roles of unconscious learning and learning in the affect domain. The interpretive paradigm emphasizes the implicit nature of knowledge and the changing influences of reality. Knowledge is acquired only through experiences and direct engagement in practice (i.e., participation; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Consequently, this paradigm values implicit or practical knowledge. Mezirow (1990) contended that the learning process involved looking at past experiences, new experiences, and reflecting on these for the purpose of making meaning. Observing the dynamic world and the complexity of human communication, the interpretive paradigm asserts that realities are multiple and subjective and that truth is relative. Consequently, such assertion poses a dilemma. Do we want the communication of our interpretations to be as clear as if there is a single reality or, with multiple realities (possibly billions of different interpretations), a confusion that leads to no action? Such dilemmas can be found in Mezirow’s theory of transformational learning. On one hand, this theory rejects a positivist notion of absolute truth and assumes that knowledge is subjective. On the other hand, this theory “seeks to establish a general, abstract, and idealized model which explains the generic structure, dimensions, and dynamics of the learning process” (Mezirow, 1996, p. 166). From the perspective of the holistic theory, all theories serve as carriers of explicit or technical knowledge and thus have positivist elements. The interpretive paradigm fails to distinguish interpretations from reality. The critical paradigm involves a commitment to deliberate action for justice in society, whereas the existing social structure is seen as coercive and oppressive. It argues that any adequate approach to theory must provide ways of distinguishing ideologically distorted interpretations from those that are not (Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Although the critical paradigm focuses on emancipatory or critical knowledge, it assumes that a certain part of knowledge is distorted. Although this paradigm strongly advocates the rejection of positivist notions of rationality, objectivity, and truth because of its danger to move toward hegemony, most of its propositions tend to fall into the scope of instrumental rationality. Without the support from two other facets, emancipatory or critical knowledge might lead to a true “false
  22. 22. 中国科技论文在线 Yang / HOLISTIC THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE AND ADULT LEARNING 127 consciousness.” Many communist movements were originated from the critical paradigm and aimed toward emancipation for the working class, but they later tended to be very hegemonic because of the lack of continuous validation. Therefore, existing paradigms have limited perspectives about knowledge, and we should attempt to end paradigm wars. What we need is a holistic view with a dialectical perspective. That is to say, it is necessary to realize both the contradictory and complementary nature of knowledge. Learning is not an easy task moving toward one direction in a linear fashion. On one hand, the three knowledge facets have been established on different bases, with different characteristics, and move toward different directions. On the other hand, there are dynamic relationships among these facets. More important, knowledge is always changing, and learning is taking place along with any changes in the three knowledge facets. Consequently, although scholars and practitioners may limit their work only in one or two domains, they need to acknowledge the roles of and relations with all of the other knowledge facets. Conclusion This article presents a holistic theory of knowledge and adult learning. By examining the major characteristics of three knowledge facets, it argues that learning can be understood within the interactions among the three facets of knowledge. It further argues that each of the knowledge facets should be examined in three layers because of their different roles and functions. The conventional paradigms assume that knowledge facets are divisive and thus fail to integrate the dynamic relationships among knowledge facets. Therefore, research and theory building need to consider the nature of knowledge facets. Theories must meet the requirements of empirically sound, communicative clarity, and critically analysis (Brookfield, 1992). As part of knowledge base, theory-building efforts should consider the nature of three knowledge facets. Adequate criteria of theory building should include explicit facet of knowledge (i.e., empirically sound and logical), implicit facet of knowledge (i.e., communicative and practical), and emancipatory facet of knowledge (i.e., critical and ethical). More research and theory building activities need to be done to test and validate the proposed holistic theory of knowledge and adult learning. Because of space limitation, this article largely focused on the nature of knowledge and learning at the individual level and learning in certain social or cultural contexts. Similar theorization needs to be done at the group and organizational levels to explore the effective ways of knowledge management and organizational learning.
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