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The Educational Value of Organization

This page builds on the foundation of five related sections about organizing knowledge:  the verbal-and-visual organization in Design Process` and the educational benefits (for Conditional Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge), plus Questions & Sub-Questions.   Although I recommend reading these first, all of what you see below (especially the first part, with its new illustrative examples) will make sense as a stand-alone page.



Organization — Meaning and Memory

It's easy to find page 86 of a book, the word “grace” in a dictionary, or a book in a library, due to personally-meaningful organization.  Book pages are in numerical order, dictionary words are alphabetical, and library books are arranged according to a system (Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress,...).  If you understand how a system is organized, you can use that system more effectively.

Logical organization that is meaningful also helps you retrieve information from your memory.  Here is an example.


Quiz 1:  For a few seconds, look at these 22 letters:
t s e k h a u o e n d y g c a l h t e y n m

Then close your eyes and try to remember all of them;  don't leave any letters out, don't put any extras in.


If you were given enough time and incentive, you could memorize these letters.  But there is a better way to do it — by using organization.


Quiz 2:  Try to remember “sneaky the lunch dog my ate” after a few seconds of study.

Each quiz contains the same 22 letters.  So why can you remember the letters more easily-and-effectively in Quiz 2?

1) Quantity:  It's easier to remember 6 things (in #2) than 22 things (in #1).

2) Meaning:  Simply forming letter-groups isn't enough.  Is it easy to remember letter-groups like “temuy acnh gnte ysol aek dh"?  No, because they are not organized into words that have meaning for you.  You can easily remember the meaningful word "lunch”, but not meaningless letter-groups like “temuy”.

3) Structure:  This is added in a third quiz, when these words are organized into a story.


Quiz 3:  During class, you let students (individually, then in groups) convert the words into a story.*  Later, will students be able to remember the 6 words and 22 letters?  Why?

* You can ask “what happens?” or “what does the dog do?” or just say “arrange the words into a story.”

To improve memory even more, someone (students or you) could tell the dog-story in a dramatic way, maybe supplemented with a clever cartoon (drawn before class or during it), or shown in a video with live action or animation.  For most students these “extras” would not be needed for this simple 6-word story, but analogous interest-producing activities could be useful for concepts (or skills) that are important enough to warrant the extra attention.


Organization — Meaningful Understanding

When students — who are stimulated by asking “what happens?” — convert the words of Quiz 2 into a story, organization helps produce meaningful understanding that promotes memory.

One of the most educationally useful features of Design Process is its logical organization.  You can understand this logical organization more easily, and use the system of Design Process more effectively, when you learn it one logical step at a time, building your understanding in a progression of learning.

Meaningful understandings are useful in many ways, as explained below.



Educational Benefits of Organized Knowledge

Psychologists and educators agree that a logical organizing of knowledge, in a way that is personally meaningful, is useful for increased Quality of Learning, for better understanding, remembering (by storing, retaining, and recalling/transfering), and applying (to support expertise, including adaptive expertise).


In this section I'll quote from How People Learn (a research-based book, highly respected) with added italics, bold, and [comments].

Transfer:  "A key finding in the learning and transfer literature is that organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater ‘transfer’;  that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly." (HPL, page 17)

Expertise:  "The sophisticated problem representations of experts [which improves their problem-solving abilities] are the result of well-organized knowledge structures.  Experts know the conditions of applicability of their knowledge [they have high-quality Conditional Knowledge], and they are able to access the relevant knowledge with considerable ease. ... The ability to plan a task, to notice patterns, to generate reasonable arguments and explanations, and to draw analogies to other problems are all more closely intertwined with factual knowledge than was once believed." (pages 237, 16)   [One of HPL's three Key Findings is that] "to develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must:  (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge,  (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and  (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application." (page 16)

Adaptive Expertise:  On pages 45-48, the authors compare "two very different types of expertise, one that is relatively routinized [rigid] and one that is flexible and more adaptable to external demands."  Adaptive experts "are metacognitive,... able [and willing] to approach new situations flexibly and to learn throughout their lifetimes."  They view new design projects as "opportunities to explore and expand their current levels of expertise" because "they attempt to do things better" by continually improving their ideas-and-skills knowledge with personal education.  Educators want to "understand how particular kinds of learning experiences [in and out of the classroom] develop adaptive expertise" and "whether some ways of organizing knowledge are better at helping people remain flexible and adaptive to new situations."


Conceptual Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge:  Some relationships, and how both can be improved by using Design Process, are described in An Ideas-and-Skills Curriculum.    { I.O.U. - Eventually I'll find-and-share more about research on how learning-and-performing for both kinds of knowledge are affected by organization. }


Is memory obsolete?

Sometimes proponents of radical educational reform seem to claim that modern students do not need to remember Conceptual Knowledge that they can find on the internet.  This is partially true, but only for some types of knowledge, in some situations.  More generally, if you want to "develop competence in an area of inquiry" you must be able to understand the central concepts in this area, how these concepts interact with each other, and how the concepts can be logically organized into a cohesive system of working knowledge.  In many practical situations these concepts must be mentally available for quick "retrieval and application" so you can hold the concepts in your working memory and actively use the concepts for creative-and-critical thinking during a process of solving problems.

Although memory is not sufficient for creative-and-critical productive thinking, it is necessary to provide the raw materials of ideas-and-skills knowledge — theories & exemplars, analogies & metaphors, experimental techniques & systems, problem-solving strategies (algorithms & heuristics), and much more — that can be mentally processed when you think.  Your memory supplies many of the resources you need for productive thinking.


My Personal Applications:  Inspired by a recognition of how well I learned when other teachers and authors did this, I have developed logically organized verbal-and-visual summaries in a wide range of areas, for physics-and-math, chemistry, juggling, music, ballroom dancing, and (in this website) design process` and science process`.