Knowledge / Productivity

On Accumulation, Assimilation and Accommodation of Knowledge

I have several personal knowledge accumulation and assimilation projects on various topics ranging from pathology, medicine, lean healthcare, healthcare quality to religion and sociology.

Learning is a natural response to encountering something new.

Within Jean Piaget’s theories on cognitive development are related ideas on how children process knowledge. Piaget was interested in how children organize ‘data’ and settled on two fundamental responses stimuli: assimilation of knowledge, and accommodation of knowledge.

There is a need to accumulate knowledge for a comprehensive evaluation and a significant proportion of it needs to be comprehended and assimilated. Another aspect is Accommodation of knowledge.

Accumulation of knowledge occurs when we get new ideas, information or knowledge which is completely new, innovative or different from what we know. Think of this as getting new filled containers.

Assimilation of the knowledge occurs when a we encounters a new ideas, information or knowledge, and are able to ‘fit’ that into what we already know. Think of this as filling existing containers.

Accommodation of knowledge is a more substantial and higher level of processing of the assimilated knowledge, requiring the learner to reshape those containers.

You can think of these containers as ‘schema.’ Schema are fluid and constantly evolving vessels students use to process what they see, read, and feel. The following from the University of Puget Sound is a simple example clarifying the difference between assimilation and accommodation of knowledge.

“When a child learns the word for dog, they start to call all four-legged animals dogs. This is assimilation. People around them will say, no, that’s not a dog, it’s a cat. The schema for dog then gets modified to restrict it to only certain four-legged animals. That is accommodation.

“Assimilation is like adding air into a balloon. You just keep blowing it up. It gets bigger and bigger. For example, a two year old’s schema of a tree is “green and big with bark” — over time the child adds information (some trees lose their leaves, some trees have names, we use a tree at Christmas, etc.) – Your balloon just gets full of more information that fits neatly with what you know and adds onto it.

Accommodation is when you have to turn your round balloon into the shape of a poodle. This new balloon ‘animal’ is a radical shift in your schema (or balloon shape)….Now that they are in college in the redwood forest, we have conceptualization (schema) of trees as a source of political warfare, a commodity, a source of income for some people, we know that people sit and live in trees to save them; in other words, trees are economic, political, and social vehicles. This complete change in the schema involves a lot of cognitive energy, or accommodation, a shift in our schema.”

A childhood of ranging, divergent thinking that varies in depth, form, and tone can provide a ‘schema’ that more readily accepts new ideas, or has provided the student with an increased sense of self-efficacy in making the effort to do so. This sort of divergence doesn’t have to be academic, either. Experience is experience.

Piaget thought of these as processes–assimilating and accommodating knowledge–as both interactive (one affecting the other) and capable of overlapping. When a child encounters stimuli without assimilating or accommodating it–or without being capable of assimilating or accommodating it–they will fail to “understand.” Whatever new idea they encountered will either have to be further parsed and analyzed, or discarded.

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