The difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom

Yesterday I had a sort of aha-erlebnis while listening to a talk and ended up with my own kind of taxonomy. And of course, somebody way smarter than me already made this way before me. So I’m not sharing my taxonomy, but somebody else’s idea.

It is probably not usable to make goals in education so it isn’t even a taxonomy as such, but it may help in some present educational discussions. .

The four elements are:

  • Data
  • Information:
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom

Ackoff added understanding to this list – right between Knowledge and Wisdom, but I agree with Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, Anthony Mills (2004) that understanding is of a different order and could be regarded as a tool e.g. to get from information to knowledge as described in this paragraph:

The first tree elements can be described as follows (Zins, 2007):

  • Data are sets of signs that represent empirical stimuli or perceptions,
  • information is a set of signs, which represent empirical knowledge, and
  • knowledge is a set of signs that represent the meaning (or the content) of thoughts that the individual justifiably believes that they are true.

But what is wisdom and what is the difference with knowledge, the Cambridge dictionary helps out:

the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments:

To make it concrete, Bellinger, Castro, & Mills (2004) describe it as follows:

Data represents a fact or statement of event without relation to other things.

Ex: It is raining.

Information embodies the understanding of a relationship of some sort, possibly cause and effect.

Ex: The temperature dropped 15 degrees and then it started raining.

Knowledge represents a pattern that connects and generally provides a high level of predictability as to what is described or what will happen next.

Ex: If the humidity is very high and the temperature drops substantially the atmospheres is often unlikely to be able to hold the moisture so it rains.

Wisdom embodies more of an understanding of fundamental principles embodied within the knowledge that are essentially the basis for the knowledge being what it is. Wisdom is essentially systemic.

Ex: It rains because it rains. And this encompasses an understanding of all the interactions that happen between raining, evaporation, air currents, temperature gradients, changes, and raining.

This distinction may help when discussing the need for knowledge in times of Google and Wikipedia. What you can find online is data and information, but it’s not knowledge or wisdom. No, not even those different inspiring quotes are just pieces of information…


Ackoff, R. L. (1989). From data to wisdom. Journal of applied systems analysis16(1), 3-9.

Bellinger, G., Castro, D., & Mills, A. (2004). Data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Retrieved from

Zins, C. (2007). Conceptual approaches for defining data, information, and knowledge. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology58(4), 479-493.

9 thoughts on “The difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom

  1. Hello Pedro,

    Interesting progression: data-information-knowledge-wisdom.

    I learned, more than 25 years ago, from Peter M. Senge – and his quote continues to be true: “Our knowledge has raised exponentially since the ‘golden sixties’ and I haven’t seen much of a raise of our wisdom, yet.”

    To me:
    • Data are sets of signs that represent stimuli captured by observation;
    • Information is a set of signs that have been appreciatively understood creating this way meaning;
    • Knowledge is a set of signs that are meaningfully put into action;
    • Wisdom is crystalized knowledge trough living knowledge from within.

    Knowledge, you know it and can reproduce it; Wisdom, you live it without ‘thinking of it’


  2. I’m a huge fan of Hannah Arendt–she goes from knowledge to thinking, willing and judging—thinking is the state where we have a 2-in-1 conversation with ourselves; willing is putting our thoughts into action and juding is deciding what is right and wrong (I suppose we might call that “critical thinking” today, but the term is starting to lose meaning). I’m not sure putting wisdom up at the top is a good thing–see

    1. According to Socrates: “A wise man is a man who knows he knows no-thing” and to Marcus Tullius Cicero: “The wise man knows nothing if he cannot benefit from his wisdom. Wisdom is not only to be acquired, but also to be utilized.”

      To me Knowledge is acquired out of Information, which is distilled from data and Wisdom is applied Knowledge, so putting wisdom up at the top is definitely a good thing!

      That’s right, that’s right, said the Sufi Judge!


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