What is Knowledge Acquisition?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Knowledge acquisition typically refers to the process of acquiring, processing, understanding, and recalling information through one of a number of methods. This is often a field of study closely tied to cognition, memory, and the way in which human beings are able to understand the world around them. While no single theory has been thoroughly proven or universally accepted, many theories regarding the acquisition of knowledge contain similarities that can be considered basic aspects of the process. Knowledge acquisition typically details how people experience new information, how that information is stored in the brain, and how that information can be recalled for later use.

One of the primary components of knowledge acquisition is the supposition that people are born without knowledge, and that it is gained during a person’s lifetime. This is often utilized in tandem with the idea of a person as a tabula rasa or “blank slate.” Some approaches to knowledge acquisition have been built upon the idea that people have a predisposition toward knowledge or are born with certain values or knowledge already in place. The “blank slate” approach regards humans as essentially empty of knowledge upon birth, and that new information is acquired and utilized throughout a person’s life.


Knowledge acquisition typically begins with the process of receiving or acquiring new information. This is usually done through visual, aural, and tactile signals that a person receives through his or her senses. When a person first sees a dog, for example, he or she is receiving the information about what a dog looks like. Knowledge is acquired that indicates a dog generally has four legs, is covered with fur, and has a tail.

Once information is received, knowledge acquisition typically continues through encoding and understanding that information. This encoding process allows a person to build a cognitive model, sometimes called a schema, for a piece of information. The schema for a dog, continuing the above example, incorporates the received information to build an overall sense of what constitutes “dogness.” When a person sees another animal, such as a kangaroo, he or she processes the new information, sees that it does not fit the schema of a dog, and then creates a new model for that new knowledge.

Knowledge acquisition then continues with the ability to effectively recall and alter stored information. When someone sees a dog again, he or she is able to recognize it as a dog by recalling the schema for “dog” and seeing that it fits into that model. This can create cognitive dissonance when someone encounters an object that exists within a certain schema, but which does not match certain aspects of that model.

Someone seeing a hairless dog for the first time, for example, may initially not fully recognize it as a dog and has to modify his or her schema for “dog” with the newly acquired knowledge that dogs can be hairless. This entire process of knowledge acquisition usually continues throughout a person’s life. It may be most intense, however, during the early years of life as someone is rapidly creating and altering schemata based on millions of different pieces of information.


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