Skip to content

Personal Learner Knowledge Graph

The entire education system is focused on content/curriculum. Content drives almost all academic conversations. Content is the work of designers (how should we structure this), academics (what and how should I teach), administrators (how can we prove [to some random agency] that we taught students stuff that matters), and employers (this is the content I want potential employees to master).

The content view of learning is deeply embedded in our thinking at all stages of the education system. It’s so ingrained that it is hard to NOT start a learning conversation without content as the focal point.

This content fetish is the heart of what is wrong with education. The big shift that needs to be made in education is to shift from knowing content to knowing learners. This isn’t a pablum-like argument for learner-centric education (this concept, again, starts with content, but gives lip service to learners).

What is needed in education is something like a Personal Learner Knowledge Graph (PLKG): a clear profile of what a learner knows. It doesn’t matter where the learner learned things – work, volunteering, hobbies, personal interest, formal schooling, etc. What matters is that learners are aware of what they know and how this is related to the course content/curriculum. In a sense, PLKG is like the semantic web or Google Knowledge Graph: a connected model of learner knowledge that can be navigated and assessed and ultimately “verified” by some organization in order to give a degree or designation (or something like it).

If the education system can make the transition to learner knowledge graphs, instead of mainly content, the system can start to be far more intelligent than it currently is. For example, if I’m a student who spends summer months idly consuming beverages, I will develop a different skill set than someone who spent their summer volunteering and working (see video below for a discussion I had with Steve Paikin on the Agenda). Yet when the two of us start university in fall, the system normalizes our knowledge to the curriculum. We get the same content even though we are different people with completely different skills and knowledge.

IF a learning system is based on a learner knowledge graph, the career path alone would be greatly enhanced – a learner should know where he is in relation to a variety of other fields based on the totality of his learning (i.e. “this is your progress toward a range of careers”). I’ve tried to somewhat crudely communicate this in the image below.

Video from The Agenda:


  1. Instructional Designers really look more at interactions, activities, assessments, reflections, connections, etc – the things that foster learning. But since we get ignored often by the powers that be, we get stuck with editing and structuring content :)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Breaking knowledge down explicitly into knowledge, skills and abilities would all the PKLG to prompt users
    A) when new info invalidated old knowledge and
    B) when skills and abilities needed practise to keep them fresh

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  3. gsiemens wrote:

    I did understate the role of designers, Matt. I was just throwing a few quick thoughts out. I agree – designers are more about interactions and activities, not just structuring content..

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  4. Oh yeah – I know you know that :) Just gotta be the squeaky wheel occasionally since I know some of the powers that be at UTA also read this :)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  5. But I think what you hit on in the first paragraph illustrates how every part of the educational process is pushed/molded/re-structured into this content fetish despite what we were all hired to do. I completely agree with that – We all know what people are supposed to be doing, but the system is molding us all into something vastly different. Content distribution machines.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink
  6. Greast posting. – I have myself already developed a software and sound theory regarding ‘personal learner knowledge graphs’. Check out my book ‘Information technolog rethought as memory extension’ on Amazon or visit my website Don’t hesitate to email me your opinion.



    Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 3:42 am | Permalink