The End of "I Don't Know"

Today, a song came on the radio that I didn’t know. I held my iPhone next to the car door speaker and used Shazam to identify the artist and title of the song. Just like that, I knew what I wanted to know and even had the opportunity to purchase the song from my phone. The length of time between not knowing certain information, and then having access to that information on my computer or iPhone screen can be less than two minutes. I find myself wondering if it’s accurate to say I “don’t know” the info in the first place. How short does the distance of time between not knowing something, and then knowing it need to be before the phrase “I don’t know” becomes irrelevant?

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I was at H&R Block a few days ago, getting a Second Look at my tax return, and I realized I didn’t know what the “H&R” stood for. I took out my iPhone, and did a Wikipedia search. I learned that “H&R” stands for Henry and Richard, the company’s founders.

A few nights earlier, watching television with my wife, an actor came on screen that we recognized, but didn’t know where from. A quick search on IMDb reminded us that she’d been a regular on 24 a few seasons back.

Just today, a song came on the radio that I didn’t know. I held my iPhone next to the car door speaker and used Shazam to identify the artist and title of the song. Just like that, I knew what I wanted to know and even had the opportunity to purchase the song from my phone.

In each case, the length of time between not knowing certain information, and then having access to that information on my computer or iPhone screen was less than two minutes. And in each case, I found myself wondering if it was really accurate to say I “didn’t know” the info in the first place.

How short does the distance of time between not knowing something, and then knowing it need to be before the phrase “I don’t know” becomes irrelevant? It may seem like a silly semantic exercise, but I believe it has direct implications for the way we approach teaching and learning.

Those of us who are teachers can sometimes view our roles as dispensers of information. We want to provide people with ideas, facts and concepts they don’t already know. We want to help them learn new things. But if the people sitting in our gatherings can instantly access almost any information, do they really not know what we’re teaching? Or have they just not accessed it yet?

Call me crazy, but I think within 10 years (maybe less), we’re going to stop using the phrase “I don’t know,” at least in the way we currently use it. As a society, we are growing used to having instant and unlimited access to information. This is changing the way we learn, the way we come to know things. And I think our expectation for learning environments is drastically changing as well.

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When we approach teaching with this new reality in mind, it causes us to reconsider our role. Perhaps our role is less about presenting new information, and more about recognizing what people already know, helping create environments where we can collaborate, share and discover together.

I think the Church is ready for this, ready to invent and innovate as our relationship with information continues to transform right in front of us. Together we can dream of new ways of teaching, new ways of helping each other learn.

What will these new ways be? My guess is that if we commit to learning from one another, giving access to each others’ ideas and collaborating together, we may find out we know much more than we thought we did.

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