Does Learning Make You Smart?

What is the difference between knowledge and intelligence?

Boy Studying in His Room
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The English language has many different words that refer to knowledge and intelligence: smart, dumb, intelligent, slow, genius, knowledgeable, ignorant, stupid, brilliant, and so on. Basically, we group the words into categories. The words in one category have mainly negative connotations and the words in the other category have mostly positive connotations. That means that when people want to be negative, they use any word in the first category and when they want to be positive, they use any word in the second category.

For example, when someone wants to insult another person, he might call the other person "ignorant."  He thinks that "ignorant" is just another way of saying "stupid." He might even think he is being more "polite" by using the word "ignorant" instead of the word "stupid."

But the words have different meanings and refer to different states. Being ignorant is not the same as being stupid.


If one lacks knowledge on a topic, then he is ignorant about it. That is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, no one person can know everything about every topic on Earth. We are all ignorant about something, probably a lot of somethings!  We can "correct" our ignorance. That must means that we can learn about a topic. We may not become an expert on the topic, but we can gain some knowledge. When we gain knowledge, we become knowledgeable.  Being knowledgeable, however, is not the same as being intelligent.


An intelligent person can also be ignorant. Intelligence refers to the ability to learn. It is not knowledge, but the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Everyone has the ability to learn, but the ability varies from person to person. Some people learn more quickly and more easily than others.

Gifted children, for example, generally need just one to two repetitions of a concept in order to learn it, while average children need nine to twelve repetitions.

The Connection Between Knowledge and Intelligence

Because highly intelligent people can acquire knowledge quickly and easily, an intelligent person can have a lot of it. People tend to consider that person to be smart. In other words, they mistake knowledge for intelligence. But being smart is a function of intelligence, or more accurately, the two refer to the same quality. The words "smart" and "intelligent" mean essentially the same thing.

The acquisition of knowledge makes a person knowledgeable, but it doesn't make the person smart. In other words, if you take a course in a subject, you become more knowledgeable on that subject, but you are no more intelligent that you were before you took the course. Parents who want to make their children smart by teaching them as much information as they can, sometimes starting with flashcards when their child is barely a toddler, are simply making their child more knowledgeable, and even that is questionable since if the child doesn't understand the information, it's hard to say the child is knowledgeable.

Final Thoughts

We should all want to nurture our child's abilities, so teaching them and helping them learn is not a bad idea. We don't want to push our child, of course, but nurturing their abilities and talents and providing them with enriching experiences can be very beneficial. However beneficial it may be, though, it is not going to make a child smarter - more intelligent.

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