Chapter 2: The nature of knowledge and the implications for teaching

Purpose of the chapter

This chapter discusses the relationship between our views on the nature of knowledge and the way we decide to teach.

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • recognize your own epistemological/philosophical position that determines the way you are currently teaching;
  • reflect on the similarities or differences between academic and everyday knowledge;
  • decide whether technology changes the nature of knowledge, and consider the implications for teaching;
  • describe in broad terms the main theories of learning and discuss their implications for teaching;
  • identify different levels and types of learning and decide which is most appropriate for your subject area/students;
  • integrate these ideas into a personal strategy or philosophy for the teaching of your subject;
  • decide on whether or not to change your overall approach to teaching in the light of the issues raised in this chapter.

What is covered in this chapter

In this chapter, I will be discussing different beliefs about the nature of knowledge, and how that influences teaching and learning.

In particular, this chapter covers the following topics:

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

  • Activity 2.1 What do you think makes a good teacher??
  • Activity 2.3 Defining the limits of behaviourism
  • Activity 2.4 Defining the limits of cognitivism
  • Activity 2.5 Defining the limits of constructivism
  • Activity 2.6 Defining the limits of connectivism
  • Activity 2.7 Epistemology and academic knowledge

Key Takeaways

1. Teaching is a highly complex occupation, which needs to adapt to a great deal of variety in context, subject matter and learners. It does not lend itself to broad generalizations. Nevertheless it is possible to provide guidelines or principles based on best practices, theory and research, that must then be adapted or modified to local conditions.

2. Our underlying beliefs and values, usually shared by other experts in a subject domain, shape our approach to teaching. These underlying beliefs and values are often implicit and are often not directly shared with our students, even though they are seen as essential components of becoming an ‘expert’ in a particular subject domain.

3. Different theories of learning reflect different views on the nature of knowledge.

4. Every teacher starts from some epistemological or theoretical position, even if it is not explicit, or even if the teacher is not fully aware of their beliefs.

5. With the possible exception of connectivism, there is some form of empirical evidence to support each of the theories of learning outlined here. The difference then is as much about values and beliefs about knowledge as it is about the effectiveness of each theory.

6. It is argued that academic knowledge is different from other forms of knowledge, and is even more relevant today in a digital age.

7. However, academic knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge that is important in today’s society, and as teachers we have to be aware of other forms of knowledge and their potential importance to our students, and make sure that we are providing the full range of contents and skills needed for students in a digital age.



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