A Knowledge-Information-Data Concept Model for Engineering Education

Article excerpt


This paper outlines a concept model that describes the inter-relationships between data, information and knowledge pertaining to engineering practice. The knowledge-information-data (or KID) concept model is intended to provide a basic framework describing some of the fundamental engineering skills. It is hoped that this framework would provide insights in how improvements can be made to the teaching of undergraduate students, given that engineering is predominately a knowledge-based industry.

A concept model is a simple tool to visualise the main elements and processes that drive a more complicated system. In the context of this paper, the purpose of the concept model is to provide a common ground in relation to key terms, terminology and a basic understanding of underlying principles. A conceptual "mind map" of the definition and linkages between data, information and knowledge is expected to be a useful tool to facilitate communication between stakeholders wanting to enhance engineering education outcomes.

The KID concept model proposed in this paper is assembled from established knowledge theory coupled with the authors' own experience working in industry, and observations of the role and attributes of graduate engineers.


Data, information and knowledge are familiar terms in our daily lives. They can be defined in a multitude of ways to the point that they have become interchangeable in use (Bell, 1999). Selected definitions are provided in table 1, and these have been constructive in development of the KID model.

A hierarchical structure is often used to describe functional relationships between these three key terms, with data as a base or starting point, transforming into information and subsequently leading to knowledge. Various representations of this hierarchy have been made including a continuum or chain (Bell, 1999; Davenport & Prusak, 1998; Lievesley, 2006). A more common representation in the literature is the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom (DIKW) pyramid (figure 1).

DIKW is part of the canon of information science and management, and the subject of much critique and debate (Fricke, 2008; Rowley, 2007). Ackoff (1989) is credited as the first to formally elucidate the DIKW structure, but much earlier conceptions are founded on education theory (a history is documented by Wallace, 2007). Due to its philosophical nature, wisdom is often excluded in the technical-based information sciences, leaving a truncated hierarchy extending from data to knowledge.

Regardless of the underling representation (as a chain or pyramid), it is clear that there is no universal or unifying conceptual framework that defines data, information and knowledge. For example, Lee et al (2006) described several taxonomies of knowledge that differ according to technical discipline. By a series of questionnaires, Zins (2007) documented 130 definitions of data, knowledge and information based on responses from 45 scholars from 16 countries working in the same field of information science. It is as if "the academic community speaks in different languages". With this is mind, the main objective of this paper is to develop a KID concept model specific to engineering education that provides a mechanism for clear, unambiguous communication of the fundamental principles of data, information and knowledge.



A major function of a concept model is to provide a shared language in order to gain further insights. Concept models are not intended to be definitive or incorporate all interactions, processes or complexities, and are thus inherently interpretive and simplistic.

The main intent of the KID concept model is to provide a broad, opinion-based view and a common definition of terms that engender more efficient communication and analysis of the problems faced by universities in producing effective engineering graduates. …


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