10. Is the Nature of Knowledge Changing?

10.2. Knowledge as a Commodity

All the above authors agree that the ‘new’ knowledge in the knowledge society is about the commercialization or commodification of knowledge: ‘it is defined not through what it is, but through what it can do.’ (Gilbert, p.35). ‘The capacity to own, buy, and sell knowledge has contributed, in major ways, to the development of the new, knowledge-based societies.’ (p.39)

In a knowledge-based society, particular emphasis is placed on the utility of knowledge for commercial purposes. As a result, there is more emphasis on certain types of immediately practical knowledge over longer-term research, for instance, but because of the strong relationship between pure and applied knowledge, this is probably a mistake, even in terms of economic development.

The issue is not so much the nature of knowledge, but how students or learners come to acquire that knowledge and learn how it can be used. This requires more emphasis on developing and learning skills of how best to apply knowledge, rather than a focus on merely teaching content. Also, it will be argued later in the book that students have many more sources of information besides the teacher or instructor and that a key educational issue is the management of vast amounts of knowledge. Since knowledge is dynamic, expanding, and constantly changing, learners need to develop the skills and learn to use the tools that will enable them to continue to learn.

But does this mean that knowledge itself is now different? I will argue that in a digital age, some aspects of knowledge do change considerably, but others do not, at least in essence. In particular, I argue that academic knowledge, in terms of its values and goals, does not and should not change a great deal, but the way it is represented and applied will and should change.