personal and shared knowledge in tok essay

Understanding Personal and Shared Knowledge in Theory of Knowledge

From the moment I began my foray into the enriching world of the IB curriculum, the Theory of Knowledge immediately piqued my curiosity. 

Diving into this core component of the IB, it opened my mind to the complexities and intricacies of how we perceive and interpret the world. Through TOK, I realized how personal and shared knowledge forms the backbone of our understanding and interaction with the world.

As an experienced IB educator and writer, I’ve explored these fascinating aspects of knowledge from various perspectives. 

Today, I aim to share this understanding with you, focusing specifically on the differences and interplay between personal and shared knowledge.

What is Personal Knowledge in TOK?

Personal knowledge – what a profound concept it is. As the term suggests, it is knowledge that is unique to each individual. It is derived from our own experiences, beliefs, values, and perceptions, all of which come together to form our worldview. 

Just as a painter uses a unique blend of colors to create a masterpiece, so too does each individual create their personal knowledge from a mix of their unique experiences and perceptions.

Example of Personal Knowledge

For instance, my passion for education, coupled with my journey as an IB educator, forms part of my personal knowledge. It is a treasure trove of insights, experiences, and learnings, unique to me and only me. From understanding the nuances of different subjects to creating strategies for successful learning, this personal knowledge has been my guiding light in my teaching journey.

I believe it also helps me to guide you through this important topic right now, while you are reading my article.

Yet, as diverse and wide-ranging as personal knowledge may be, it is not without its limitations. Our experiences and perceptions can sometimes cloud our judgment and lead us to form biased or uninformed opinions. 

Let me give you an example: once, early in my career, I struggled with teaching a particularly complex TOK concept. Based on this single experience, I quickly formed the opinion that this concept was too difficult for any student to grasp. 

However, as time went by and I interacted with different students who showed varying levels of understanding and different approaches to learning, I realized that my earlier belief was biased, formed from a limited perspective.

This example underlines why personal knowledge needs to be constantly evaluated and refined, to ensure that it evolves and grows as we do. 

Personal knowledge, in my experience, is like clay – it’s flexible, malleable, and shaped by our hands. It is a reflection of our understanding and a testament to our growth.

What is Shared Knowledge in IB?

Shared knowledge, as the name suggests, refers to the knowledge we gain from society and the broader community rather than our individual experiences. 

It encompasses a wide array of subjects – historical events, scientific theories, mathematical concepts, cultural norms – the list goes on. From an early age, we start to acquire shared knowledge through various mediums such as education, media, and cultural practices.

Examples of Shared Knowledge

Take for instance, the IB curriculum itself. As an IB educator, I don’t just impart my personal knowledge and experiences to my students. Instead, I strive to share a vast body of academic knowledge that has been painstakingly gathered, verified, and refined by countless scholars and educators over the years. This is shared knowledge – a product of our collective intellectual efforts, transcending individual experiences and boundaries.

However, shared knowledge is not without its pitfalls. Just as our personal experiences can bias our personal knowledge, societal norms and beliefs can bias shared knowledge. 

In my experience, certain historical events are often portrayed differently based on the cultural or national perspectives of the scholars writing about them. 

This is a typical example of how shared knowledge can sometimes be skewed, emphasizing the need for a critical evaluation of shared knowledge.

Differences Between Personal and Shared Knowledge

On the surface, personal and shared knowledge might seem to be two sides of the same coin, but dig deeper, and you will discover a nuanced interplay between these two types of knowledge.

Each has its strengths and limitations, and each influences the other in unique ways.

Differences with Examples

Firstly, the scope of personal and shared knowledge varies greatly. While personal knowledge is a product of our unique experiences, beliefs, and perceptions, shared knowledge is a product of collective wisdom formed through the shared experiences, ideas, and insights of society as a whole.

For example, my understanding of the IB curriculum, both as a student and as an educator, forms part of my personal knowledge. But the curriculum itself – its structure, content, and guidelines – is a form of shared knowledge, crafted by educators worldwide based on a broad consensus about what constitutes effective education.

Secondly, the impact of personal and shared knowledge can also differ significantly. Personal knowledge can change our worldviews, shape our beliefs, and guide our actions on a personal level. On the other hand, shared knowledge shapes societal norms, influences public opinion, and guides policy decisions on a larger scale.

But perhaps the most profound difference lies in how personal and shared knowledge are evaluated and refined. Personal knowledge is often subjective, influenced by our personal biases and experiences. In contrast, shared knowledge tends to be more objective, undergoing rigorous validation and scrutiny by the community at large.

Despite these differences, it’s important to note that personal and shared knowledge are not mutually exclusive. They interact and influence each other in a dynamic dance of learning and understanding, a topic I’ll delve deeper into in the next section.

Interplay Between Personal and Shared Knowledge

Throughout my time as an IB educator, I’ve found that one of the most fascinating aspects of the TOK lies in the dynamic interaction between personal and shared knowledge. These two forms of knowledge are not isolated, but rather, they continually influence and shape each other in our journey of learning and understanding.

Consider, for instance, the way a classroom discussion evolves. Each student brings their personal knowledge to the table – formed by their unique experiences, perceptions, and beliefs. They also bring the shared knowledge acquired through their education. 

Importance of Balancing Both Types of Knowledge

Something quite extraordinary happens when these personal perspectives meet the shared knowledge base. Through the exchange of ideas, personal knowledge contributes to shared knowledge, and shared knowledge helps shape personal knowledge.

In my early days as a teacher, I recall initiating a discussion about climate change. While shared knowledge provided scientific facts and statistics, each student’s personal knowledge – shaped by their experiences, geographic location, and personal beliefs – added a unique dimension to the discussion. This is a testament to the rich interplay between personal and shared knowledge.

However, it’s critical to strike a balance between these two types of knowledge. Leaning too much on personal knowledge might make us dismiss shared knowledge, leading to skewed perspectives. 

On the other hand, relying heavily on shared knowledge could stifle individual thought and creativity.

Implications for Education

Understanding the distinctions and interconnections between personal and shared knowledge can revolutionize the way we approach education.

In my experience, a curriculum that acknowledges and values both forms of knowledge fosters a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the world.

ib tok shared and personal knowledge

Educators can make learning more engaging and meaningful in the classroom by creating a space where personal and shared knowledge can interact. 

Incorporating Both Types of Knowledge Into Classroom

For instance, a literature teacher might encourage students to connect the themes of a novel (shared knowledge) with their own experiences and interpretations (personal knowledge).

Furthermore, incorporating personal knowledge into education helps students see the relevance and applicability of what they are learning. 

When I taught TOK, I frequently encouraged students to relate philosophical theories to their own lives, thereby making these concepts more relatable and understandable.

On the other hand, shared knowledge provides a structured framework within which personal knowledge can grow and develop. It offers a common ground for communication, facilitating intellectual discourse and collective understanding.

Rrecognizing and balancing personal and shared knowledge can significantly enhance the learning process. 

Start by combining the subjective richness of personal knowledge with the objective breadth of shared knowledge. This can pave the way for a more holistic, enriching, and empowering educational experience.


Throughout my journey as an IB educator and writer, exploring the labyrinth of knowledge that Theory of Knowledge presents has been both an intriguing and enlightening experience. 

Unraveling the complexities of personal and shared knowledge, their inherent strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which they influence and shape each other, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how knowledge forms the foundation of our learning and worldview.

To all the IB students reading this, remember, the Theory of Knowledge isn’t just an academic course – it’s a tool that allows you to perceive the world with greater depth and understanding. It encourages you to question, evaluate, and appreciate the intricate tapestry of knowledge that shapes your learning and experiences.

As you delve into the realm of TOK and tackle essays, exhibitions, and other assignments, you may find yourself needing guidance and support. Please know that there’s no shame in seeking help. 

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As I close, I want to encourage each of you to continue your exploration of personal and shared knowledge. Reflect on how this understanding can shape your approach to learning and your worldview. 

Remember, the journey of knowledge is a lifelong one, marked not by a destination, but by the insights and understanding we gain along the way.

Never stop learning, never stop questioning, and never stop growing.

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