The IDEAL: Inert Knowledge or Inert Ideas

Icon of section IDEAL (Instructional Designer's Evolution through Analytical Learning)- Creative Agni ezine.

Inert Knowledge

Inert Knowledge comprises Ideas and Concepts that are transferred to a learner in absence of a prior schema that the new information can connect with. Thus, the new knowledge remains  isolated with little chance of being applied by the learner.

This concept was first given by Alfred North Whitehead. About Inert Ideas (a term given by him,) Whitehead said that they are

“received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.”

Here’s Coffeebeans’ take on Inert Knowledge. (What’d I do without that darling pup lending me a helping paw whenever I am short of ideas?)

Cartoon depicting Coffeebeans the pup with an education, mulling over the eurozone crisis and the double dip recession (inert knowledge) and favoring the word "treat" (association of ideas.)

Inert Knowledge – An Example

An example that comes to my mind is a weeklong computer programming training program that I attended as a young Steel Plant Engineer, in the year 1991. I had absolutely no need for that training. I could neither connect it with my prior learning (Mechanical Engineering) nor with my future work (in the Steel Plant,) and so whatever I learned in that training program ended up as Inert Knowledge for me.

Reflection Activity

  1. Attempt to recall an example of inert learning from one of your recent learning experiences (a course that you took, a training program that you attended, or even a book that you read.)
  2. As an instructional designer, try to think of possible association that you could build between the said inert concept and your prior schema. Reflect upon how such associations could change the inert knowledge into active and useful information/skill.