Knowledgeable vs. Knowledge Able


I ask you to envision this……

I think our design team can learn to be  nurses in a few short sessions. I can invite faculty from a nursing program to come and talk to me and my colleagues about best practices in nursing. Surely being knowledgeable about these best practices will enable us to become fine nurses in short order! We are very smart, in fact some of our designers have PhDs so nursing should be something we can adapt our abilities to! We can read instructions, we can pick up the skills ourselves once we know what they are. Simply identifying them, and hearing about them will make us able to DO them. This plan will surely work and will save us a lot of time and money – we will just invite the expert to come in and talk to us about what they would do and we will do it ourselves. Our patients will never know the difference! 

Ask yourself if a nurse trained this way would be someone you would want drawing your blood, or administering medication to you? Now ask yourself why you would want to offer your students a strategic program designed this way?

Many years ago, a colleague introduced me to the work of Michael Wesch, a Professor of Cultural Anthropology and a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University. Michael’s work illustrates the difference between making learners “knowledge able”…which is not the same as knowledgeable. He illustrates this beautifully in his many YouTube videos, showcasing his research, that have garnered millions of views. He has captured what it looks like to be a student today, in this digital age, and the possible ways to ignite a spark. To have learners be in the driver’s seat and be writing the conversation and partaking in their own learning using the online medium that is “literally in the air around them.” These videos and his research are over a decade old, but unfortunately many still do not understand how to make learners “knowledge able” and if this doesn’t change, higher ed will cease to be relevant. 

I come back to this very old set of inspiring videos as I reflect on a conversation I had just last Friday with someone looking to launch a nursing program online. Many of our prospects are prioritizing online programs as a strategy. Many of them also face an enormous change management task in order to do so and they really don’t know where to begin. We understand this challenge because we have helped hundreds of colleges to successfully undertake this and in fact have even created an offering designed specifically to help with this – Accelerated Plus.   We provided a proposal to the individual looking to launch the nursing program that would leverage our model. The goal of this approach is to instill best practice with a cohort of faculty around three main areas – content, collaboration and assessment. We scaffold for them how to design their courses to create a cohesive program with clear outcomes for learners that are measurable, and we spend a 8-10 weeks putting them in the driver’s seat – making them “knowledge able,” not just knowledgeable. 

COVID produced student experiences online that were largely underwhelming. In many cases did not provide the value you’d expect from the tuition that was being charged. Faculty, many of whom had little to no experience in this mode, have been given the task of moving curriculum online and teaching online. There is a huge difference between uploading content and running your class through the LMS and designing an online program. They are not the same, and when an institution pursues the former, it’s going to produce a bad experience all around. 

Back to the conversation with the prospect for nursing…..the request was, rather than to pursue the Accelerated Plus service, could we come and speak to the nursing faculty about best practice. The idea is that if we talk about best practice for a few hours, the faculty would be able to design better courses with better student experiences. I spent a very long time on this call explaining why the end result would be unsatisfactory. But really it comes down to “knowledge able” vs knowledgeable. It comes down to actively participating in the learning process vs passively participating. It comes down to what Michael Wesch said over a decade ago: constructing knowledge is experiential and incremental. Yes, it does involve knowing what best practice looks like, but it also involves working through how to apply it and getting feedback along the way and iterating and practicing and investing the time to the new skills you are looking to acquire and hone. If this is in fact a strategic initiative, an institution should back it up with the resources, planning and quite frankly budget that ensures your strategy is successful, in other words, make the  people in the room “knowledge able.”

I am not sure the nursing faculty will learn this in time to launch a program worthy of their student’s tuition, but for anyone else out there contemplating  launching an online program who think that a strategy of upskilling faculty to be learning designers, UX experts, experts in 508 compliance, mobile compatibility and online pedagogy is possible via a few short tutorials, or webinars or even live sessions will result in a quality online program is not very likely to succeed. Take the time and invest in making the  people in the room “knowledge able.”

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Learning Design

“I am so grateful for your patience with us throughout this process—we’ve been able to learn a lot with this pilot and have valued you all as thought partners in that work.”


Girlie Delacruz
Associate Vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning at Northeastern University


“This work has illustrated mapping of existing nursing content to the draft AACN Essentials through the Skillways platform.  This offers us a way to move toward competency-based education by truly modularizing our content for small-bite delivery because we can measure progress toward outcomes as students proceed along individual paths.”

David Bodily
Director, ReNEW & RN-BSN Completion Programs University of Wyoming


“Thank you for all of your hard work and support! We appreciate your professionalism, knowledge, and participation in this wonderful experience to create two creative and dynamic courses.”

George Lacuesta

Help Desk

“Ease was always quick to work with us as an institution to quickly resolve issues. The follow up of agents was amazing.”

Nancy Artaz
Friends University