Neil Tambe

Husband, Father, Citizen, Professional.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Knowledge, Skills, Wisdom (and Liberal Arts)

medium_3353617661 I've been fairly amazed by the proliferation of online learning platforms, like Coursera, Skillshare, Khan Academy, and others. They're remarkable, I think, because they decouple "learning" from needing to interact with a person in real-time. You can learn from a screen and/or a computer and still have it be more interactive than a book.

As a quick point of reference, I'd argue there are (roughly) three types of things we learn:


  • Knowledge - awareness and understanding of a topic. Knowledge answers what something is.
    • Sample Online Platforms: Coursera, Khan Academy
  • Skills - an ability required to complete a task. Skills are an answer for how to do something.
    • Sample Online Platforms: Skillshare, CodeAcademy
  • Wisdom - a virtue which helps decide what to do. Wisdom is an answer for why to do one thing versus another.
    • Sample Online Platforms: Do you know of any?

If you look at online learning platforms, you'll find that most platforms fall into the knowledge and skills categories. The only platforms that come close to developing wisdom are things like TED and BigThink and even so only with certain talks. TED and BigThink are more like insights - when other people share their wisdom. True wisdom, I'd argue, is something which must be internalized.

The thing is, developing wisdom takes practice, thoughtfulness, self-awareness, and reflection. It takes asking tough questions and sitting with them. It takes a broad diversity of people and disciplines around you to develop.

Wisdom is the stuff of deep truths. Developing it is hard. I think that's why you find plenty of online platforms exchanging knowledge and skills but few, if any, developing wisdom.


It seems to me that colleges and universities can't win if they hang their hat on distributing knowledge and skills unless they do most of it cheaply on digital platforms. Online courses for knowledge and skills will always be cheaper than in-person ones.

What colleges and universities can win on is wisdom. They can offer meaningful experiences and a diverse community. They can offer mentors and teachers. They can provide coaching and external influences. In other words, they can provide the right environment for students to develop wisdom through practice.

They also have the liberal arts. Because of its diversity, propensity to uncover truths and deep questions, and it's depth, it seems to me that the liberal arts are essential to developing wisdom.

Even if you're an engineer, business person, doctor, or lawyer, the liberal arts are essential. Why? Because the liberal arts cultivate wisdom.

--- photo credit: Russ Allison Loar via photopin cc