Didactic Theory of Knowledge and Learning Critical Theory of Knowledge and Learning


Teaching what to think Teaching how to think


Knowledge is independent of thinking about it Knowledge of content is dependent upon how we think about that content


A person is a repository of content (like an encyclopedia or data bank) A person is a repository of strategies, principles, concepts, insights embedded in processes of thought


Facts are picked up one-by-one; they are prefabricated in sets of true statements about the world


Experience is analyzed and organized by critical thought; what is known is constructed as needed from context to context
A person is a true-believer


A person is a seeker and a questioner, cautious of claiming knowledge, aware of many unknowns


Knowledge can be transmitted by verbal statements


Knowledge can rarely, and insight never, be transmitted by verbal statements alone – one can only facilitate the conditions under which people can learn for themselves


Students do not need to be taught listening skills, it is a function of self-discipline and will-power


Students need to be taught to listen critically through active questioning, trying-on, testing, i.e., engaging in dialogue


Reading and writing can be taught without emphasizing critical thinking skills


Reading and writing are inferential skills that require critical thinking where probing critical questions* are raised and answered


Students who have no questions are learning well; students with many questions are experiencing difficulty


Students who have no questions are usually not learning; students with pointed and specific questions is a sign of learning
Doubt and questioning weaken belief


Doubt and questioning deepen understanding and strengthen belief putting it on more solid ground


Knowledge can be learned by breaking it into elements where each is taught atomistically


Knowledge domains are heavily systemic and holistic – they can only be learned via ‘dialectical tacking’ from wholes to parts and from parts to wholes, and, where one domain is actively considered in relation to other knowledge domains


Learning occurs without significant transformation of values for the learner


People gain only the knowledge they seek and value; genuine learning transforms people’s values resulting in people becoming life-long learners


Understanding the mind is not an important part of learning


Understanding the mind is necessary to gain insight into how we as thinkers and learners are processing that subject matter


Ignorance is replaced by being given knowledge


Prejudice, bias, misconception must be reasoned out of dialogically and dialectically; learners need opportunities to express all views in a non-threatening environment


Knowledge can be absorbed without understanding its rational ground or deeper logic; superficial learning can later be deepened


Depth understanding of root concepts and principles is essential for rational consent
Emphasis on breadth of knowledge covered superficially


Emphasis on a small amount of knowledge covered in depth
Roles of teacher and learner are distinct


Learners need opportunities to teach what they know to others (formulate their understanding in different ways and respond to questions)


Teacher corrects learner ignorance by telling the person what is not known


Recognition of ignorance is self-directed
Teacher has the responsibility for student learning


Student is given responsibility for their learning; they must actively and willingly engage themselves in the process


Students will automatically transfer knowledge to relevant real-life situations


Didactically taught knowledge is usually forgotten or rendered inert; significant transfer occurs by focusing on experiences meaningful to the student and aims directly at transfer


Personal experience has no role to play in education


Personal experience is essential in education – it is a crucial part of the content to be processed by the student


Correct question answering, definition provision, application of formulae in tests proves knowledge acquisition


Explaining in one’s own words, with examples, the meaning and significance of knowledge, why it is so, spontaneous recall and use of it when relevant indicates knowledge acquisition


Authoritative answers that the teacher has are the fundamental standards for assessing knowledge acquisition Authoritative answers are replaced by authoritative standards for the engagement in the communal, dialogical process of inquiry


  *Critical Questions:
  • What is the fundamental issue? 
  • What reasons/evidence is relevant to this issue? 
  • Is this source or authority credible? 
  • Are these reasons adequate? 
  • Is this evidence accurate or sufficient? 
  • Does this contradict that? 
  • Does this conclusion follow? 
  • Is another point of view relevant to consider?
 Adapted from:

Paul, R. Critical Thinking:  What Every Person Needs To Survive In A Rapidly Changing World, 2nd Ed.
Santa Rosa, CA:  The Foundation  for Critical Thinking, 1992.