We Know More Than We Can Say: The Paradox of Tacit Knowledge - Part One

Nancy Dixon, New Zealand Education Gazette, Aug 11, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Many people talk about tacit knowledge, but as Nancy Dixon writes, "those quoting the phrase seldom go beyond referencing it to Polanyi, providing little explanation or reasoning for why, if we know it, we can’t just write it down." True, but I'm not really happy with her answer: "What we learn from experience is stored, not in the form of answers, but in bits and pieces of the experience we have accumulated, sometimes over years." We used these "bits and piueces", she says, to "construct" sentences representing out knowledge. Tacit knowledge, says Dixon, is what Dorothy Leonard calls Deep Smarts, or is like the knowledge shared by copier repair te chnicians, as described by Julian Orr, Yes, it's a form of pattern recognition, as documented in Sources of Power by Gary Klein. But pattern recognition is very different from construction.

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