The downgrading of knowledge by education hipsters

„This has become a fashionable platitude, which…would result in a…content-free curriculum […]. This downgrading of knowledge is, ironies of ironies, to be implemented in the interest of creating a knowledge-based economy.“ (Coffield et al., 2004).

It is a trend in nowadays discussion on education to criticize factual knowledge and the teaching and testing of it in educational institutions. It seems also a natural reaction to follow the general assumption that you do not need to know what can be easily looked up (Let me Google this for you). But this makes only sense if you are not an expert in educational science and pedagogy. It is also nowadays not surprising that even high-level political forums such as the World Economic Forum invites non-experts in education to provide input on the future of educational systems. In this video, the founder of Alibaba recommends that the importance of knowledge will go away in the future and that we should better focus on the arts or dancing. How obscure such a recommendations look like becomes easily visible if you reflect that arts and dancing are creative activities that combine knowledge of diverse types so that these are clearly no separate categories.

In recent times this assumption that we should steer the educational institutions away from the transfer of factual knowledge and replace this by transversal skills and method training is repeated by a group of people who are very present when it comes to criticizing what´s wrong with schools and the educational system in nowadays societies. I call those people “education hipsters” because they are leading a trendy discussion against the mainstream that is from my perspective building on a consciously wrong interpretation of knowledge structures and their connection. But stardom is more important than facts - it fits to the overall approach of the downgrading of knowledge.

If you want to become an expert in anything you need a basic knowledge basis because otherwise you have nothing to apply or no basis to analyze anything. This cannot be replaced by experiential learning or Barcamps or anything else. Knowledge in different forms (factual, conceptual, procedural) is essential to deal with anything on a higher complexity level of any model of cognitive objectives (Krathwohl, 2002). Of course we can all teach design thinking and neglect the content expertise, but how do we decide what´s right or wrong then? By agreement of people who lack content knowledge?

In the recent discourse on ChatGPT you can also see a flavor of this assumption: If an AI will be able to answer factual knowledge questions then teachers should be asked to change their assessment? Seriously? Just because an AI can answer the questions it shifts factual knowledge questions into oblivion? We can of course discuss the issue of relevance or problems of inert knowledge (Whitehead, 1967) and of near and far-transfer of this knowlegde (Barnett & Ceci, 2002) but we should in all cases not contribute to the disdain of individual knowledge construction and since the necessity of factual knowledge is most likely even increasing in a hypercomplex world there will still be a need for assessing this knowledge. Letting learners understand the importance of it is a question of framing and supporting the knowledge acquisition process. If you read about that (factual) knowlegde is not important anymore, you better check the expertise or agenda of the writer.


Barnett, S. M., & Ceci, S. J. (2002). When and where do we apply what we learn?: A taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological bulletin, 128(4), 612.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., Ecclestone, K., Coffield, F., Moseley, D., … & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(4), 212-218.

Whitehead, A. N. (1967). The aims of education. 1929. Reprint.

Marco Kalz
Marco Kalz
Professor of Digital Education

My research interests is on open education, pervasive technologies and formative assessment to support (lifelong) learning and knowledge construction.