Levels of Knowledge

The great thing about the world is that there is so much information to absorb - far more than any one person can ever learn. Which means that when we learn or develop a skill, we're progressing up a ladder with an infinite number of rungs. And no matter where we are on that ladder, some people are above us, and some below.

There have been some discussions I've read lately that have gotten me thinking about this. And I think it's a useful idea to keep in mind.

When I was studying for my MA, I would get two very different reactions: Some folks would look at me in a kind of awe -- "A Master's Degree? Oh, wow." Others would ask me, "So, when are you getting your PhD?"
It's all relative. In the eyes of the first group, I was studying something very advanced. To the latter, it was just another stepping stone towards something even higher.

It's like when I knit a sock on double-pointed needles, and some people look at me like I'm performing black magic. Even when I know it's quite simple once you're used to it, and there are so many other more advanced things you can do with knitting, some well beyond my own expertise.

Similarly, I could never consider myself a 'spinning expert' - after all, I've only been doing it for a few years. But I can usually make the kind of yarn I want to make, and I've got the basics down pretty well. I have taught other people the basics to spinning on a drop-spindle, and they have gone on to develop their own spinning skills.

I believe there is a place for intermediate learners teaching beginners, because this ladder of knowledge is so vastly high. And when you have learned something new, you can get really enthusiastic and share that knowledge with other people - even when you do so imperfectly.

But similarly, when someone higher up on the ladder explains to an intermediate learner that what they are teaching is a little awkward, or poorly phrased, or downright wrong, the learner needs to take that gracefully. Not necessarily without argument - not all information is set in stone, and many times there is no One Best Technique. But the advice should be taken and considered in the spirit that it was given, and the learner should not feel hurt or bullied.

I know I've been guilty of teaching as a non-expert - maybe making some flubs along the way. I've always written to the best of my knowledge, but when the pool of knowledge is so vast, of course I can't take it all in. So this is my request: If you read something here and you don't think it's true, by all means leave a comment! You're doing a favor for me, and for anyone else who reads that post in the future. Maybe it's a factual error, or maybe it's a difference of opinion, and either way we'll all learn something.



  1. Very interesting post. I think advanced beginners can sometimes think they are 'experts' but then they realise there are so many more things to learn.

    In my experience, with knitting & when I used to teach horse riding, the more you know the more you realise there is to learn.

    1. Absolutely! You know what they say, 'wisest is he who knows that he does not know'.