Knowledge has become ubiquitous. The same applies to stupidity, greed, fundamentalism and the quest for power. Definitely, it applies not to peace, happiness or wisdom. In spite of undeniable progress with respect to income, medical care, education and technology last decades the world did not become a better place. The ubiquity of knowledge has not been very helpful. On the contrary, knowledge has been a steady accomplice in the decline of the earth.
The production, distribution and use of knowledge
The number of academicians has never been higher than today. Moreover, knowledge is produced in many places outside universities: company research labs, high-tech start-ups, research institutions, think tanks and newspapers. Not to forget tacit knowledge that is emerging in practice. The growth of knowledge has gone far beyond anybody’s capacity to absorb. The time when academic knowledge could be stored in textbooks is long gone. The best scientists prefer to explore their own niches, sometimes between disciplines, using a variety of methods. Unfortunately they stick together in rather homogeneous clans.
Printed or electronic sources in which knowledge is stored are ubiquitous too. The sheer number of scientific publications is doubling every 9 years since 1950. Unfortunately, many publications are incomparable due to differences in assumptions, variables, definitions, methods and size of research populations. Besides, potential beneficiaries from scientific research rarely read scientific publications. The chance that they will find information that is useful to them has decreased significantly during the past decades. The fact that some publications explicate their practical relevance in a few sentences at the end is by no means a solution for this problem.
A new perspective
Fortunately, some politicians, entrepreneurs and public servants do be open for academic support for the benefit of themselves, their company or institution and for society. At the same time, a growing group of scientists regrets the arduous contacts between science and society. The solution is mutual engagement: Groups of scientists team-up with representatives from for example companies, NGO’s and not-for-profit institutions and try to match research interest and practical needs in collaborative projects.
Many teachers assume that students have to be saturated with disciplinary knowledge first before its application can be practiced. This outmoded idea has proven not to work because of the abundance of scientific knowledge, the blurring of disciplinary borders and the situated character of ‘real problems’. In stead, students acquire meaningful knowledge only if they learn to deal with unstructured problems from the first day they enter university. The development of a more structured knowledge base can wait and might be reserved for students who aspire a career in academia. Disciplinary bachelor programs might be replaced by the study of societal problems like environment, migration and integration, healthcare, energy and the like.
Knowledge in general is abundant but is meaningless for saving the world. In the meantime, knowledge that is developed and learned within the context of understanding and solving real problems is badly needed.
Pearce, J. L., & Huang, L. (2012): The decreasing value of our research to management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(2), 247-262.