Knowledge from You
How to Remove the Curse of Knowledge from Your Writing
The more you know, the harder it is to remove the curse of knowledge from your writing.
After years of education and experience in your field, you may no longer even notice when you’re baffling others with the concepts, obscure language and shorthand of your daily life.
But though your prospects and clients may not know something you know, they are smart and sophisticated and they will seek out a professional who’s easier to communicate with if you don’t clean up your language.
The failure to communicate
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads a well-informed person ( you) to assume, illogically, that someone else knows as much about your subject as you do.
It’s the difficulty of imagining what it’s for someone else not to know something you know well.
In writing and speaking, the curse of knowledge often appears as jargon, missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, or a lack of detail about the situation and logic followed.
The challenge of professional language
If you’re in professional services — an architect, accountant, engineer, doctor, research scientist, or lawyer for example —you may feel an additional challenge from the mistaken belief that a certain amount of jargon is necessary to establish credibility.
Or perhaps you believe your clients are “above average” in their sophistication — successful entrepreneurs, or other engineers, for example, who you think understand more than they do. Or you might be concerned about ‘dumbing down’ important concepts.
For multiple reasons, professionals and academics steeped in specialized subjects can struggle to write an accessible blog post or a case study to attract potential new clients or support positive social change.Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.”
— Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick
A dense subject done well
But on a bright winter day recently as I drove back to the office after a lunch meeting, my ear caught a great example of an expert in his field rising above the curse of knowledge.
By most standards, the subject is dry (and dense) — how electric rates are set, the recent history of deregulation and how the regulatory environment is keeping up with new forms of small power generation.
During a 20-minute interview on the Vermont Public Radio program Vermont Edition, long-time energy consultant Rich Sedano of the Regulatory Assistance Project explained Electric Utility Regulation 101 in simple language.
He defined his industry terms as he talked, provided relevant context and offered familiar analogies for everyday listeners. Listening to Sedano’s interview will be time well spent if you’ve ever despaired at the thought of explaining a complex subject clearly and succinctly to a lay audience.
How to remove the curse of knowledge from your writing
If you want to improve your communications, here are a few suggestions. (You might also want to check out Steven Pinker’s latest book, The Sense of Style.)
- The key is to know the curse exists. Start by acknowledging your very human vulnerability to this cognitive bias.
- Write your piece and then review it looking for opportunities to…
- Throw out jargon
- Explain abbreviations (and use them sparingly)
- Liberally use for example, as in, and such as to explain technical terms
- What is an example of leveraging your assets?
- What is an example of a key performance indicator?
- Commit to the concrete (tangible objects people can imagine through the five senses)
- Tell a story to illustrate a key point
- Use metaphors or analogies
- Read what you wrote out loud
- Ideally, ask someone in your target audience to review the piece and ask you questions
Overcoming The Curse of Knowledge
The Curse of Knowledge, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Harvard Business Review
Are You Suffering From the Curse of Knowledge? Lifehacker
How to Avoid the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ in Sales Pitches
The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker
The 6 Types Of Knowledge: From A Priori To Procedural
There is so much disagreement over what are, exactly, the different types of knowledge that an agreed upon “master list” simply does not exist. This is because knowledge is purely philosophical; debates span centuries, arguments supersede fact and everyone has a different opinion about what is, or is not, knowledge.
What follows is a master list (although, of course, it won’t be agreed upon) of the different types of knowledge and theories of knowledge that are out there. Turn this new-found “knowledge” on yourself with this awesome class on how to take inventory of yourself and gain authentic self-knowlege.
1. A Priori
A priori and a posteriori are two of the original terms in epistemology (the study of knowledge). A priori literally means “from before” or “from earlier.
” This is because a priori knowledge depends upon what a person can derive from the world without needing to experience it. This is better known as reasoning.
Of course, a degree of experience is necessary upon which a priori knowledge can take shape.
Let’s look at an example. If you were in a closed room with no windows and someone asked you what the weather was , you would not be able to answer them with any degree of truth. If you did, then you certainly would not be in possession of a priori knowledge. It would simply be impossible to use reasoning to produce a knowledgable answer.On the other hand, if there were a chalkboard in the room and someone wrote the equation 4 + 6 = ? on the board, then you could find the answer without physically finding four objects and adding six more objects to them and then counting them. You would know the answer is 10 without needing a real world experience to understand it. In fact, mathematical equations are one of the most popular examples of a priori knowledge.
Interested in learning more about philosophy? Check out this five-star course on an introduction to philosophy and its different schools of thought.
2. A Posteriori
Naturally, then, a posteriori literally means “from what comes later” or “from what comes after.” This is a reference to experience and using a different kind of reasoning (inductive) to gain knowledge.
This kind of knowledge is gained by first having an experience (and the important idea in philosophy is that it is acquired through the five senses) and then using logic and reflection to derive understanding from it.
In philosophy, this term is sometimes used interchangeably with empirical knowledge, which is knowledge observation.
It is believed that a priori knowledge is more reliable than a posteriori knowledge.
This might seem counter-intuitive, since in the former case someone can just sit inside of a room and base their knowledge on factual evidence while in the latter case someone is having real experiences in the world.
But the problem lies in this very fact: everyone’s experiences are subjective and open to interpretation. This is a very complex subject and you might find it illuminating to read this post on knowledge issues and how to identify and use them. A mathematical equation, on the other hand, is law.
3. Explicit Knowledge
Now we are entering the realm of explicit and tacit knowledge. As you have noticed by now, types of knowledge tend to come in pairs and are often antitheses of each other. Explicit knowledge is similar to a priori knowledge in that it is more formal or perhaps more reliable. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that is recorded and communicated through mediums.
It is our libraries and databases. The specifics of what is contained is less important than how it is contained. Anything from the sciences to the arts can have elements that can be expressed in explicit knowledge. Get a taste of explicit knowledge for yourself with this top-rated course on learning how to learn and knowing how to tap into your inner genius.
The defining feature of explicit knowledge is that it can be easily and quickly transmitted from one individual to another, or to another ten-thousand or ten-billion.It also tends to be organized systematically.
For example, a history textbook on the founding of America would take a chronological approach as this would allow knowledge to build upon itself through a progressive system; in this case, time.
4. Tacit Knowledge
I should note that tacit knowledge is a relatively new theory introduced only as recently as the 1950s. Whereas explicit knowledge is very easy to communicate and transfer from one individual to another, tacit knowledge is precisely the opposite. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to communicate tacit knowledge through any medium.
For example, the textbook on the founding of America can teach facts (or things we believe to be facts), but someone who is an expert musician can not truly communicate their knowledge; in other words, they can not tell someone how to play the instrument and the person will immediately possess that knowledge. That knowledge must be acquired to a degree that goes far, far beyond theory. In this sense, tacit knowledge would most closely resemble a posteriori knowledge, as it can only be achieved through experience.
The biggest difficult of tacit knowledge is knowing when it is useful and figuring out how to make it usable. Tacit knowledge can only be communicated through consistent and extensive relationships or contact (such as taking lessons from a professional musician).
But even in this cases there will not be a true transfer of knowledge. Usually two forms of knowledge are born, as each person must fill in certain blanks (such as skill, short-cuts, rhythms, etc.).
You can better understand this theory and other ways we use knowledge with this video textbook on the psychology of learning.
5. Propositional Knowledge (also Descriptive or Declarative Knowledge)
Our last pair of knowledge theories are propositional and non-propositional knowledge, both of which share similarities with some of the other theories already discussed.
Propositional knowledge has the oddest definition yet, as it is commonly held that it is knowledge that can literally be expressed in propositions; that is, in declarative sentences (to use its other name) or indicative propositions.
Propositional knowledge is not so different from a priori and explicit knowledge. The key attribute is knowing that something is true. Again, mathematical equations could be an example of propositional knowledge, because it is knowledge of something, as opposed to knowledge of how to do something.The best example is one that contrasts propositional knowledge with our next form of knowledge, non-propositional or procedural knowledge. Let’s use a textbook/manual/instructional pamphlet that has information on how to program a computer as our example. Propositional knowledge is simply knowing something or having knowledge of something.
So if you read and/or memorized the textbook or manual, then you would know the steps on how to program a computer. You could even repeat these steps to someone else in the form of declarative sentences or indicative propositions. However, you may have memorized every word yet have no idea how to actually program a computer.
That is where non-propositional or procedural knowledge comes in.
Now might be a good time to brush up on how we learn with this sweet course on how to base goals on what you want to learn in order to exceed your wildest dreams.
6. Non-Propositional Knowledge (also Procedural Knowledge)
Non-propositional knowledge (which is better known as procedural knowledge, but I decided to use “non-propositional” because it is a more obvious antithesis to “propositional”) is knowledge that can be used; it can be applied to something, such as a problem. Procedural knowledge differs from propositional knowledge in that it is acquired “by doing”; propositional knowledge is acquired by more conservative forms of learning.
One of the defining characteristics of procedural knowledge is that it can be claimed in a court of law. In other words, companies that develop their own procedures or methods can protect them as intellectual property. They can then, of course, be sold, protected, leased, etc.
Procedural knowledge has many advantages. Obviously, hands-on experience is extremely valuable; literally so, as it can be used to obtain employment. We are seeing this today as experience (procedural) is eclipsing education (propositional).
Sure, education is great, but experience is what defines what a person is capable of accomplishing. So someone who “knows” how to write code is not nearly as valuable as someone who “writes” or “has written” code.
However, some people believe that this is a double-edged sword, as the degree of experience required to become proficient limits us to a relatively narrow field of variety.
But nobody can deny the intrinsic and real value of experience. This is often more accurate than propositional knowledge because it is more akin to the scientific method; hypotheses are tested, observation is used, and progress results.
Now that you know the basics of knowledge theory, use it to develop some procedural knowledge with this course on knowledge management and strategies to identify, create, distribute and manage insights and experiences.
Where do you get your knowledge from?
- Knowledge or familiarity
Do you new knowledge? Where do you get knowledge from? How do you keep it up to date?
There are many paths for the acquisition of knowledge these days, depending on what you want to know, learn, master or discuss. The diversity of electronic media and e-learning offers it support learning and increase the possibilities. Thanks to e-learning, you can also select courses the type of learning, whether you prefer to learn visually or acoustically.
Knowledge or familiarity
If you just want to know superficially what a story map is, then you can type it into a search engine and read through the first result. If you would to know more details, then a carefully written book is a better starting point, because here the most important foundations have been prepared by an expert.
A thick book certainly brings more than a thin one, because it repeats the overviews of the shorter book. A special story mapping book is more useful than a general book about agile software specification, in which there will be half a page somewhere where story maps will be mentioned.
Because paper is going fashion, the subject book can be read just the same electronically, either as an e-book on a laptop or on an e-book reader.Reading also seems to be going fashion. Meanwhile, educational videos on have become popular – five to ten minute videos in which snippets of knowledge, , for example, ‘how do I write a user story?’ are explained.
Even the audio learners are accommodated when something is explained to them orally. I really audio books because they leave my hands free, so to say, then I can stick notes and numbers into a book at the same time.
That’s how I manage a whole hour of additional input per office day.
Course books and e-learning courses are often assessed using multiple choice questions, to see whether the learners have understood the content. Through them, learners get direct feedback as to whether or not they read everything attentively enough and if they understood.
Expanding your knowledge online
If you read, see or hear knowledge, it whooshes past and sounds really simple. But maybe it also sounds very difficult. In any case, you have just read, seen or heard the knowledge.
That’s enough to know facts. But you only learn to do things by doing them! Maybe you want to be able to do something, use a method, improve an ability. Because practice makes perfect, you have to practice.
You can just produce a story map.
Unfortunately, in this quiet chamber of solitary practice, an important element of the learning cycle is missing: feedback. We can only improve when we learn what we have done correctly and what we have done wrong. We can’t always judge this ourselves. If we try something new, is it at first unusual and sometimes it misses the mark.
Courses provide a protective barrier in which we can try new things and receive competent and constructive feedback. This is true not only for a story map but also for activities that you already have a command of but want to try something different with.
If I start a lecture, for example, in a specific way, how does it really work? Can it really be done this? I had an idea, what do you think? Does it suit me?
We don’t always need a real life course with a star trainer, pieces of salmon in the breaks and a wellness area for afterwards. We can comfortably practice a lot of things at home alone, the grammar of a foreign language, dance steps or programming. Even at a beginners level one feels safer stumbling alone, for fear of disgrace.
Well-compiled e-books and educational videos – on CDs or on the internet – are good didactic support, especially ones that focus of exercises. We can check and evaluate the results ourselves. This is not ideal, because one can accidentally become used to something that is wrong, and habits are really stubborn.For that reason, a trainer as a feedback provider can’t be done in, despite and free online courses. Even in the online lectures (MOOC = massive open online course) one tries to give individual feedback. With thousands of simultaneous users, that can only work with a peer review system – the participants evaluating each other at the same time.
That works astonishingly well and leads to more critical and multifaceted feedback than when someone evaluates their own work. However, the quality of the feedback is not guaranteed.
I change between self-directed learning and courses. I start a course when I have come quite far alone and have completely concrete questions that I want to put to a professional.
In the area where you are an expert, self-directed learning is easiest, but you might also be prone to strive for perfection, which is difficult to reach.
On the one hand, there is not a lot that is lacking in terms of knowledge and ability, you know the most important concepts and methods and can use them.
New knowledge is easily connected with existing knowledge, and if you already know a notation for process modelling, it is easy to learn another. The foundational principles and the difficulties are similar.
On the other hand, there is perfection. The learning curve is the steepest as long as you know absolutely nothing. Every word that you read wins you knowledge. At some point you have to read entire books in order to find a single new thought. It is even more difficult to reach perfection with practical knowledge.
Without competent feedback, it is impossible. If you have a superior command of story mapping and have been doing it for years, you have to refine the details. For that you need someone who is at or above the level you are striving for to provide feedback.
The closer to you come to perfection, the smaller the course groups, the more individual the feedback, until you come to individual coaching.
Even the thick books leave out a lot of special cases. Or you have tried something that was supposed to have worked for others. But it didn’t. Or you are entertaining a new idea, using something in a new area that was not possible before. In order to answer different or hypothetical questions, it is good to use the wisdom of the group.
Even an individual expert can only speculate and offer their judgment. Learning through discussion is an opportunity for experts at a high level to develop themselves even further. Such discussions can take place online in networks and forums, although they often suffer there from the internet’s customary lack of objectivity and self-representation.Work groups inside clubs, lecture and workshops at conferences, but also small group courses for advanced learners offer an overseeable framework for knowledge-developing discussions.
In these cases, electronic mediums offer communication support, for example, in the form of a webinar (online seminar) or a telephone conference, because true expertise doesn’t come from conserves but from people.
These days, there are diverse possibilities to acquire new knowledge and abilities. The one that you choose depends on your previous knowledge, what you want to learn and what learning style you have.
Superficial knowledge is available almost everywhere. In order to be able to do something, you have to practice, practice, practice.
Perfection and expertise are only possible through competent feedback and exchange with other experts.
Dr. Andrea Herrmann offers e-learning courses in German: //www.herrmann-ehrlich.de/index.php?&CONTENT=GER/kursuebersicht.php
73 Knowledge Quotes to Inspire Learning and Increase Wisdom
Continuous learning is one of the keys to success in life. No matter what you do.
Learning, wisdom and success are three things that fit together hand-in-glove.
That is why these quotes about knowledge, learning and success can make such an impact on your life.
Let's jump right in to the first set of knowledge quotes, and see why it is so important to be a lifelong learner, according to these quotes.
(Side note: One way to increase your knowledge is to start your morning on the “right foot” by learning something new. So join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE!)
Gaining Knowledge Quotes
“Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.”
― Carl Gustav Jung
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”
― Ronald E. Osborn
“The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.”
― Sir William Bragg
“To know that you do not know is the best. To think you know when you do not is a disease. Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it.”
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
― Herbert Spencer
“If we would have new knowledge, we must get a whole world of new questions.”
― Susanne K. Langer
“The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”
― John F. Kennedy
“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information.”
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
― Benjamin Franklin
“If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be danger?”
― Thomas Henry Huxley
“Fill thy mind with useful knowledge and thou shalt avoid empty words.”
― James Lendall Basford
“Knowledge is a weapon. I intend to be formidably armed.”
― Terry Goodkind
“Knowledge, air, is vital to life. air, no one should be denied it.”
“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”
― L. Frank Baum
“Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.”
― African Proverb
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence.”
― Robert Frost
“Knowledge has a beginning but no end.”
― Geeta S. Iyengar
“We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”
― John Naisbitt
I find it hard to find a topic more compelling and important than continuous learning. These days learning new skills and gaining knowledge is a lifetime gig. Not something set aside for a few years of advanced education.
The quotes about knowledge above give us some wise looks at why knowledge, education and learning are important. But as with any simple quotes, they don’t teach us how to find the time and energy to keep continuous learning going on.
After all, they are just knowledge quotes. They are only meant to inspire, not teach.If you want to new skills, first you will want to decide on what skills you want to learn and then make a plan to go get them.
Many skills are job specific, or represent something you have wanted to be able to do fora long time. But that does not always need to be the case… you may want to investigate skills that simply help you do better in life.
For example, this list of 88 New Skills to Learn shows some great places to give a little bit extra effort toward making a better version of yourself.
More important than the desire to learn is understanding your best possible learning style.
We all learn differently. The problems some people have with learning new knowledge is often not lack of intelligence, but that the information is given to them in a sub-optimal manner.
Discover the 7 Styles for Learning New Things. This will teach you the major methods of learning new knowledge… and actually remembering what you learned.
“We owe almost all our knowledge not to those who have agreed but to those who have differed.”
― Charles Caleb Colton
“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
― Oscar Wilde
“In today's environment, hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If you know something very important, the way to get power is by actually sharing it.”
― Joseph Badaracco
“Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.”
“All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.”
― Arthur C. Aufderheide
“Sharing your knowledge with others does not make you less important.”
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
― Margaret Fuller
“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
“Everyone is ignorant only on different subjects.”
“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”
― Peter F. Drucker
“It is nothing for one to know something unless another knows you know it.”
― Persian Proverb
“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”
― Adelaide Hoodless
“Knowledge increases by sharing but not by saving.”
― Kamari aka Lyrikal
“It is good to rub, and polish our brain against that of others.”
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
These powerful knowledge quotes show us some of the great reasons to keep learning.
After all, success these days takes more than just a college education. Far more important is to keep learning new skills and gaining knowledge.These are the reasons I wrote the book, Novice to Expert. Many people want, and need, to increase their knowledge and improve their skills.
But find they lack the time and motivation to follow through on their education and skill development, and often quit in frustration after beginning to learn something new.
We all want to expand on our existing knowledge. But sometimes it's impossible to stay consistent with a new skill or habit. It's easy to fall into the trap where you focus only on learning and never get around to implementing the information.
The truth is: You can learn anything… without spending lots of money… without dedicating thousands of hours to the process… and often without leaving the comfort of your home.
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
― Miles Kington
“One can resist the invasion of an army but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”
― Victor Hugo
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
― Robertson Davies
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
― John 8:32
“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”
― Edward Albee
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
“Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous.”
“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”
― Carl R. Rogers
“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
“One part of knowledge consists in being ignorant of such things as are not worthy to be known.”
“The ability to perceive or think differently is more important than the knowledge gained.”
― David Bohm
“Example is the best precept.”
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”
― John Locke
“A true knowledge of ourselves is knowledge of our power.”
― Mark Rutherford
“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”
― Will Durant
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“As I grow to understand life less and less I grow to love it more and more.”
― Jules Renard
Hopefully the knowledge quotes above give you a few more great illustrations of why you want education to be an ongoing endeavor.
My favorite quote about knowledge acknowledges that fact: “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”
This brings us back to the importance of self education. If you are wise, you see the gaps in your knowledge base and take some steps to try and correct them.
“Lack of knowledge is the source of all pains and sorrows whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted or fully active.”
― B.K.S. Iyengar
“People love answers, but only as long as they are the ones who came up with them.”
― Criss Jami
“Problems often become worse if incompetent people try to solve them.”
― Eraldo Banovac
“There is no wealth knowledge, and no poverty ignorance.”
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
“A lack of knowledge creates fear. Seeking knowledge creates courage.”
― Candice Swanepoel
“The highest form of ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about.”
― Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
“Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
― Daniel J. Boorstin
“Ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge but an active aversion to knowledge, the refusal to know, issuing from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.”
“Some students drink at the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.”
“You can't know too much, but you can say too much.”
― Calvin Coolidge
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”
― Isaac Asimov
“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”
“Small minds have always lashed out at what they don't understand.”
“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.”
― Anthony de Mello
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
― Aldous Huxley
“Every mind was made for growth, for knowledge, and its nature is sinned against when it is doomed to ignorance.”
― William Ellery Channing
People who lack knowledge or just don’t care about self-education can be amusing. Some of the quotes about lack of knowledge are a bit funny. But it is only funny in the abstract. In reality, there is nothing funny out this.People who lack knowledge will fall further and further behind in their chosen fields. It can be quite sad.
No single knowledge quote is going to make you go out and bust your butt to learn. (That has to come from within) But hopefully some of these knowledge quotes have given you a tiny bit of inspiration to put forth some effort to improve yourself and continue your self-education.
Finally, If you'd to start your morning on the “right foot” then join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley. This newsletter is a 5-minute read that's informative, witty and FREE!
Inspired by these knowledge quotes?
Have your own great quotes about knowledge? Why not share them, or your thoughts in the comments below
If you enjoyed this collection of knowledge quotes please be sure to share them on your favorite social media channel!
Learning with Mr. Dang | Transferring Knowledge from Excel (Part 1)
Do you remember learning a second language in high school? You'd conjugate verbs, decline nouns, and translate sentences. Even though the language was new, you didn't learn in a vacuum–you had a primary language for comparison.
So when you learned about sentence structure, you'd connect similarities from your first language to your second. If you encountered an unfamiliar form, you could recall root words from Latin, Greek, or another parent language to derive its meaning.
You took what you knew from one language and applied it to learn another:
You transferred knowledge.
If you come to PowerApps from using Microsoft Excel, you bring with you a significant body of knowledge about formulas and table structure that can transfer. Don't let your skills sit idle. You can take an existing spreadsheet-making skill and augment it into an app-building skill. But how do you actually carry it over?
The Formula Reference
If you want to learn something new, look to those who already have. There is at least one thing in common between every member from our community that I've met: they had learned how to build canvas apps using the Formula Reference page. And so did I!
So bookmark this page: Formula Reference
(Bonus: you can now enjoy it in the dark theme)
The reference page is an index of all the functions in PowerApps. Many of the functions will look familiar to an Excel user: If(), Sum(), and Concatenate() to name a few. the other docs from Microsoft, each page contains a definition of the function, its syntax, and samples of how it is used.
The reference on its own is not a teacher though. You don't learn a second language by reading a dictionary from A to Z. Below are concrete steps you can take to transfer your knowledge from Excel to PowerApps and learn the functions in a new context:
- Start a checklist.
- Take a quick inventory of functions you recognize.
- Build apps and return to the formula reference as needed.
- Search external documentation.
- Revisit the essentials from Excel: If(), LookUp(), and concatenation.
Since transfer is an involved process, this first part will explore steps 1 and 2. Understand that getting better at using formulas is only one of the many ways to grow as an app maker, not a requirement. Read on to find out how you can carry over this existing skill set.
Start a checklist
A checklist allows you to track the progress of what functions you know, and more importantly, what functions you don't know. When you 'know what you don't know,' you can set goals on what to learn next and when. From the start, you might think of copy pasting the page into OneNote for its excellent checkbox experience.
The list works, but let's improve upon it. The alphabetical sorting is useful for finding a function on the page, but learning is a process of organizing and connecting content.
Let's group the functions by which category they belong to so that we build more relationships within the content we are learning.
If you click the fx icon beside the formula bar in PowerApps, you can view predefined categories and which functions fall below them.
To add in the category metadata, copy the same formula reference list into an Excel spreadsheet–you didn't think we were only going to be working in PowerApps did you? Insert a column where you type in the categories as they're grouped in PowerApps or type in your own categories for more personalized learning.
You can filter the rows by category and copy each group into OneNote so you can get a nifty checkbox again. Your checklists are ready.
Learning is a process and I encourage you to make this checklist yourself as an exercise and to get a first look at all the functions. I'm also sharing my checklist (Excel | OneNote), so you can skip to the next section. Note that as new functions come along, you'll need to update your checklist for your own records.
Take an inventory
In this step, you'll quickly glance at your checklist to check off all the functions that are familiar to you. You can do this alphabetically among the categories, but let's be purposeful again. If you view my checklist, you'll see that I've applied yet another layer of organization to it so that each category of functions is placed in a strategic location.
Each row signifies a level of transferability–how faithfully does a function transfer from Excel to PowerApps:
- Top row: text, math, datetime, logical
- Middle row: color, information, action
- Bottom row: table, data*
*Note that I added 'data' as one of my own categories.
The top row of functions should transfer 1:1 since spreadsheets display text, numbers, and dates.
- If there is any difference between the platforms, it's simply that you'll just need to learn how to reference a control, a field, or a table instead of a cell/array.
- Some of these functions have improvements on their Excel counterparts. If() no longer needs to be nested and can list conditions and outcomes in a series.
- Although you might not use all of the math functions Sin() and Cos(), you can check them off your list as well as they work as you would expect.
- You should click into the functions you use often as you check them off during this step. There are some subtle differences in syntax, but they may follow a common pattern.
The middle row includes functions that are basic to running an app and are not found in Excel, but whose ability you can easily infer.
- You can probably guess that Back() returns the user to the previous screen and that Exit() closes the app.
- The functions for color are straightforward and RGBA simply separates channels for red, green, blue, and opacity.
- A few of these functions are common to both platforms IsBlank(), or they transfer their pattern. IsNumeric() and IsToday() follow a common pattern for conditions ISNUMBER and ISTEXT are used in Excel.
- The pages for these functions may be the first you visit when you start building apps.
The last row includes functions related to shaping tables and working with connected data. Both of these categories are mostly native to PowerApps, but understanding table structure in Excel will help in visualizing what each function does.
- You will recognize Count, CountA, CountIf, and CountRows, which would normally take a range of cells as an array in Excel. But in PowerApps, you would use the name of a table or a filter on the table as an array to count.
- Some functions will transfer for the experience they deliver. AddColumns() fulfills the functionality of a 'helper column,' but it is not a permanent column it would be in Excel.
- If you're coming from Google Sheets, you'll be familiar with Filter() and a few other functions in the table category.
- It is okay if you do not check off any functions from these categories. Since they are the ones that add significant value on top of what you could normally do in a spreadsheet, they are naturally going to be new to you.
Let's review some big ideas about learning in this section:
- there's more to learning than just reading from A-Z
- learning is a process of organizing and connecting content: we categorized each function
- content can be organized even further: we sorted the categories by transferability
Now you have an overview of all the functions. You know what you can transfer, and you know what you don't know. In the next part of this series, I'll describe in greater detail what the actual actions of transfer look .
Formula Checklist – Excel
Formula Checklist – OneNote
Learning with Mr. Dang | Common Patterns