The conversation took place nearly two years ago and it still bothers me. I was taking a stand against accommodating learning styles and cited several online articles supporting my position. Each referenced valid research but were, themselves, blog posts. I was met with surprisingly stubborn opposition.
“Those are just opinions. Anybody can write their opinion. That doesn’t mean it’s right. That doesn’t mean I have to listen to it.”
That person had quickly put up a barrier that ended what could have been a constructive conversation. Nothing I could say or do, including offering the original research about the ineffectiveness of accommodating learning styles, would be heard. Beneath its surface, his statement meant not that the “opinions” reflected in the work I shared were wrong, but rather that he would never even consider them because they didn’t match his own. Because they weren’t “facts,” he could ignore them.
Perhaps more troubling to me was that this person was essentially suggesting that the non-refereed work of others may simply not be considered by many. He was dismissing the act of blogging as simply a sharing of opinions that had no merit. Since I blog, I was offended, but then I began to realize this mindset would foolishly dismiss the work of Jay Cross, Harold Jarche, Jane Bozarth, Clark Quinn, Jane Hart, and many others I trust. Their thoughts, selflessly shared, helped to shape my current perspectives on learning in today’s changing workplace.
I thought too about other sources of information, such as television news. Would the person dismissing blog articles because they were opinion-based then believe television news stories, especially when some have been found to contain a low percentage of facts? Even journal articles aren’t necessarily credible sources of information today. Open access journals, with credible-sounding names from historically reputable publishers, will apparently publish anything for a fee, as exposed by a “sting” operation by Science Magazine (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Distinguishing fact from fiction is becoming more complex, it seems.
The Burden to Have an Informed Opinion
Patti Shank recently wrote about the Burden of an Informed Opinion. She eloquently distinguished having an opinion from having an informed opinion. The latter results from thinking critically about a topic and considering multiple positions, not just those that support your own thinking. She writes,
“Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information… A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.”
~ Patti Shank
Having an informed opinion, the result of critical thinking, is a core component of personal knowledge management. It’s the essence of our sense-making, and it’s foundation includes assessing the credibility of all the information we encounter. It requires our diligence to actively seek out dissenting opinions and understand why they exist. Informed opinions form the basis of new understanding and, when others with informed opinions share them, we should be open to consider them in the context of what we each know and understand.
In the end, the massive quantity of information that’s available at our fingertips, whether in blog posts, journal articles, or even television news, doesn’t matter nearly as much as how effectively we make sense of it all, and what sense we make of it. All the educational technology in the world can’t replace our need for critical thinking and sense-making in today’s highly complex, networked world. We alone have the power and capacity to do this. We must do this, to distinguish between facts, the informed opinions of people we trust, and misleading falsehoods offered by others. The burden is indeed ours to have an informed opinion.
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Based on a work at tom.spiglanin.com.