Knowledge or understanding?

There are those who are gifted with a capacity for strong memory. They can remember accurately – and regurgitate, as required in exams. A close friend of mine obtained distinctions in every subject at university. Regrettably, she could not readily explain, expand or apply what her memory had accumulated (possibly only temporarily).

My approach to learning, an attitude I developed after my mental maturation, is not to rely exclusively on the information stored away in my memory bank about a specific topic I am studying. Instead, I widen my reading a little around that topic; this provides some sort of perspective. For instance, how is a child’s behavioural change between (say) 2 and 5 affected by some process of maturation in the child’s brain, as well as by specifiable environmental impacts, especially of a cultural origin?

I also deepen my investigation a little. For example, in mankind’s sense of morality, how did earlier societies, especially the simpler societies, develop this sense of what is right or responsible? What were the triggers? Under what conditions did they have an influence?

Thus, putting the topic being studied, which is necessarily limited in scope, into a slightly wider and deeper related background may provide very useful understanding. Such understanding, drawn from from some relevant knowledge, would enable sound application.

I therefore believe that it is understanding, based on knowledge (which is undoubtedly backed by memory), which is needed in solving tasks in variable circumstances. The need for adaptability in application draws upon an adequate understanding, not just knowledge.