The Value of Knowledge Today is on the Decline



Yesterday, I was inspired by a great post by Chris Wilson on How to Survive the Teacher Apocalypse.  I thought about it all afternoon especially as it touched upon thoughts I had had on the cost of knowledge.  The interesting turn for me came when I started reflecting more on the Value of Knowledge because realistically the costs of knowledge have and will continue to drop rapidly (despite the efforts of gatekeepers) due to digitalization and other market factors, but something is rising in counter weight…


BEFORE I go further, a quick historical interlude…


2000 years ago, access to knowledge and knowledge itself were all but non-existent for the populace, which is why the origins of the word school in greek actually mean “leisure or spare time” as it was only those few privileged who had such a possibility.

So no access, and really no tools.  A reality and hence a value really only for nobles.

With the Renaissance, the Printing Press(1400s), and the ever slow rise of the middle class(1800-1900s), access to knowledge became more widely available, but still limited and hence knowledge was indeed valuable, and for anyone that was lucky or entrepreneurial, the industrial revolution started to open lots of doors if you could combine knowledge, hard work and invented new tools or ways of “expanding civilization”.

So there was a slow growth in access, knowledge and tools, but still there was a general scarcity for most, and hence knowledge and access to knowledge were valuable.

How about today?

I’d say that knowledge has never been less valuable because it’s access is so open (though it takes a discerning mind to read between the lines and see what is high quality and low quality information).  Thanks to computers and the internet, anyone can access even very high levels of knowledge formerly left to esoteric circles of the priveleged… so knowledge isn’t valuable, nor is the cost of it high (at least for those that are thrifty… the cultural capital earned by an Ivy League degree is of course still quite high). ;-)

So what has increased in value in turn?

True education, and education from its etymological meaning!


The latin root of all of these cognates is DUX, and actually brings us even the english word Duke. The original meaning was “to lead” “to draw out”, “to conduct”, and hence the educe in education.


More than ever before, real teachers who allow discovery in a classroom, or in an online dialogue are those that are now valuable than ever before.  The understanding and creative manipulation of knowledge and language is what is truly unique, today now more than ever, and just as you’ll hear it in the famous TED videos with Sir Ken Robinson— our task is ever more to develop critical thinking and active learners, and this comes through exploration, communication and creativity there within.

I’d say professional development has never been more important, which is another reason why I think that’s a field that’s blowing up, both on and offline these days.  It is an interesting time indeed, and personally I see this all as a positive evolution ;-)

(Thanks again Chris!)


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  • Chris Wilson

    Thanks for the high praise Brad. I think we often talk about critical thinking but not so much “Problem solving”. Critical thinking can be that skill of decrement over the value of certain types or sources of information but it also involves problem solving.

    To be able to analyse a system (even one that looks great) and see a potential improvement or change that produces a different result is INCREDIBLY valuable.
    I see lots of activities that set out to develop critical thinking but less that focus on problem solving.
    Just a few thoughts there.
    Thanks once again for your comments on my blog and for this follow up article.

  • Brad Patterson

    Smart that you separate “critical thinking” and “problem solving”… notice that both have a “negative” aspect in them (critical / problem). I think part of the issue is that: that we’re focused on disproving or “challenging” ideas as opposed to think outside of the box and really creating something / thinking of something new.

    From an ESL perspective, leaping beyond where we currently our in our language-learning and moving into the murky beyond, both using the language we have to get there and acquiring new language as well (both require creativity and seeking as opposed to having language “given to you”)

    Ah… it’s an endless discussion ;-) MERCI !!!

  • Carlos Eduardo Galvis Jr.

    Great conversation, knowledge is priceless, even if it’s very technical. Receiving knowledge firsthand from someone who lives it makes it priceless, recorded pieces of knowledge are great, but as in the ancient times, a person usually needed an experienced teacher to get the full benefit of the text. As was posted on Chris’ blog, the social part of education is also very important!!!

  • Brad Patterson

    Hey Mura,

    Not disjointed at all and very relevant. Merci for stoppin by.

    Every word is “shared” and understanding comes from history, but also personal experience… so “value” for me in this instance means “rarity”… because it is typically what is rare that is valued (gold, true love, genius).

    Knowledge is infinite, and yet somehow it’s all being graphed out digitally these days. It’s there for the taking like it never has been before, so it’s value has decreased (as it’s far from rare and widely accessible).

    Not that it’s something especially new, but the manipulation of knowledge, or creativity and moving beyond “what’s known” or understood has become very valuable because

    1) Our civilization needs creativity in a dynamic and changing environment
    2) Because anytime something like knowledge becomes commonplace then the motivation to move beyond it (or reach towards it) drops and the individuals that keep that movement going forward (because they see its value) are less common (hence more valuable).

    Does that make sense? Feels like if this were over a coffee, I’d be able to express it much more clearly.


  • Brad Patterson

    Interesting, Carlos. Yes on a personal level, knowledge can be priceless especially if it has a direct impact on our livelihood. Though, you and I have had many conversations “on a higher level” and I think knowledge from that perspective is quite mundane regardless of its impact aka “Tote Water and carry firewood”.

    On a civilization level, however, my “challenge” is that knowledge loses value if it’s more easily obtained (rarity as seen below in comment with Mura). Maybe I’m reaching out on limb here… I’m exploring ;-)


  • Mura Nava

    hi again brad,

    i agree there is always the desire to “move beyond what’s known” and being able to add to what is known is generally a mark of an educated person. an educated person realises that what is out there is not even the beginning of the beginning. an educated person will seek to move things forward.

    i don’t think in fact that knowledge is as open as you say (the open access education movement is very small and only just getting going), how can it be free in what is essentially an un-free system?

    ak i feel myself getting on a soapbox so will cut it there, but many thanks for the post, hope to be able to chat to you face to face over a coffee soon!


  • Carlos Eduardo Galvis Jr.

    I’m at a lose of words, lol.

    Digital education does have it’s place in the modern world, but it can never replace a personal touch that the teacher – student relationship has, an example would be the passion a person has for his/her subject, it infects the novitiate to want to progress and hunger for more. Though there is a lot of information out there, it’s hard for many students themselves to progress on their own without a teacher, especially when running into problems which may be solved with the student earnestly studying and coming to a grammatical epiphany on their own. It’s the rare person who can study on their own and gain a certain amount of mastery over a language, so as of now (with little to no theoretical knowledge of education) teachers won’t be pushed out, but will be pushed to know more about their subject and find that passion to put themselves into their work, where I agree with Chris’ statement.

    From my experience books without a teacher is fine, but for something like language it’s always useful to have a teacher to back up perceptions or assumptions about the second language. Only in a ecclesiastic setting is knowledge given away almost for free, but those in the religious life-mode also need to be supported by some kind of system where those who engage in trade/work support them and we in the secular setting are also pushed by the ever nagging question, “How am I going to pay for things?” If we are going to steer through all the different kinds of information thrown at us, it will take an enormous amount of time that a teacher would have mitigated for us within a shorter period, so teachers won’t be outdated… I hope =)

    On a side note, I reflected on this with experience taking on a new language, Arabic!!! Oodles of information out there for free, but difficult to wade through without guidance.


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  • Polish translator Warsaw

    I must disagree with the imposed logic that due to easier access, knowledge, or education is in decline. The teacher’s role, in fact, depreciated, however, he or she is still required as the final judge to clarifiy on anything you couldn’t solve via Internet or “-self books.”