10. Is the Nature of Knowledge Changing?

10.5. The Relevance of Academic knowledge in the Knowledge Society

An over-emphasis on the functionality of knowledge will result in ‘academic knowledge’ being implicitly seen as irrelevant to the knowledge society. However, it has been the explosion in academic knowledge that has formed the basis of the knowledge society. It was academic development in sciences, medicine, and engineering that led to the development of the Internet, biotechnology, digital financial services, computer software, and telecommunications, for example. Indeed, it is no coincidence that those countries most advanced in knowledge-based industries were those that have the highest participation rates in university education.

Thus while academic knowledge is not ‘pure’ or timeless or objectively ‘true’, it is the principles or values that drive academic knowledge that is important. Although it often falls short, the goal of academic studies is to reach for deep understanding, general principles, empirically-based theories, timelessness, etc., even if knowledge is dynamic, changing, and constantly evolving. Academic knowledge is not perfect but does have value because of the standards it requires. Nor have academic knowledge or methods run out of steam. There is evidence all around us: academic knowledge is generating new drug treatments, new understandings of climate change, better technology, and certainly a new knowledge generation.

Indeed, more than ever, we need to sustain the elements of academic knowledge, such as rigor, abstraction, evidence-based generalization, empirical evidence, rationalism, and academic independence. It is these elements of education that have enabled the rapid economic growth both in the industrial and knowledge societies. The difference now is that these elements alone are not enough; they need to be combined with new approaches to teaching and learning.