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The Continuum of Understanding Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


One gains knowledge through context (exper­iences) and unders­tan­ding. With context, one can weave the various relati­onships of the experi­ences. The greater the context, the greater the variety of experi­ences that one is able extract.

The greater the unders­tanding of the subject matter, the more one is able to weave past experi­ences (context) into new knowledge by absorbing, doing, intera­cting, and reflec­ting. Thus, unders­tanding is a continuum (Cleve­land, 1982):

Data comes about through research, creation, gathering, and discovery.
Inform­ation has context. Data is turned into inform­ation by organizing it so that we can easily draw conclu­sions. Data is also turned into inform­ation by "­pre­sen­tin­g" it, such as making it visual or auditory.
Knowledge has the complexity of experi­ence, which come about by seeing it from different perspe­ctives. This is why training and education is difficult - one cannot count on one person's knowledge transf­erring to another. Knowledge is built from scratch by the learner through experi­ence. Inform­ation is static, but knowledge is dynamic as it lives within us.
Wisdom is the ultimate level of unders­tan­ding. As with knowledge, wisdom operates within us. We can share our experi­ences that create the building blocks for wisdom, however, it need to be commun­icated with even more unders­tanding of the personal contexts of our audience than with knowledge sharing.

Often, the distin­ctions between data, inform­ation, knowledge, and wisdom continuum are not very discrete, thus the distin­ctions between each term often seem more like shades of gray, rather than black and white (Shedroff, 2001).

Data and inform­ation deal with the past. They are based on the gathering of facts and adding context. Knowledge deals with the present. It becomes a part of us and enables to perform. However, when we gain wisdom, we start dealing with the future as we are now able to vision and design for what will be, rather than for what is or was.


Data is created with facts. Thus, a datum (see note below) can be thought of as an "­art­ifact of a fact".

Data is the building blocs of meaning. It has no context except for its relati­onship to other bits of data. Without further context, data is meanin­gless as the user cannot determine where it came from, why it is being commun­icated, etc. Examples of data are lists of temper­ature, scores, and bits of news. (Wurman, 2001)
Note: Data can pose as inform­ation. For example, trivia and bits of news is just data as it has nothing to teach us. In addition, what consti­tutes inform­ation to one person, may be data to others as they do not have the needed context to make full use of it.

Contiuum of Unders­tanding


Inform originally meant to give shape to; while inform­ation is meant to shape a person.

Inform­ation comes from the form that data takes as it is arranged and presented in different ways. This “massa­ging” of the data adds context to it and allows us to understand something about the data that is presented to us. Resear­chers often describe inform­ation as a message that is commun­icated. As with any message, it has a sender and a receiver. The purpose is to change the receivers' way of perceiving something so as to cause an impact on their judgment and behavior.


Locke gave us our first hint of what knowledge is all about. Since that time, others have tried to refine it. Davenport and Prusak (1998, p. 5) define knowledge as, "a fluid mix of framed experi­ence, contextual inform­ation, values and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorp­orating new experi­ences and inform­ati­on."­ Notice that there are two parts to their defini­tion:

First, there is content: "a fluid mix of framed experi­ence, contextual inform­ation, values and expert insigh­t." This includes a number of things that we have within us, such as experi­ences, beliefs, values, how we feel, motiva­tion, and inform­ation.
The second part defines the function or purpose of knowledge, "that provides a framework for evaluating and incorp­orating new experi­ences and inform­ati­on."­ Notice how this relates back to Locke's definition — we have within us a framework (one idea) that we use for evaluating new experi­ences (the second idea).


Wisdom is the ultimate level of unders­tan­ding. It is achieved when we see enough patterns and meta-p­atterns in our knowledge base to be able to synthesize and then use them in novel ways (Wurman, 2001). Patterns can be classified as (Aldo de Moor, 2006):
Goal patterns — represent objectives
Commun­ication patterns — describe commun­icative intera­ctions
Inform­ation patterns — concep­tualize knowledge obtained from knowledge analysis activities
Task patterns — define which inform­ation patterns are associated with particular steps in a process
Meta-p­atterns — are conceptual in nature and used for interp­reting, valida­ting, linking, and assessing the quality of other patterns

Once there are enough patterns on a task or subject, they can be linked together, we are then able to make inferences for interp­reting, assessing, and predicting new uses for the patterns.