Which is of greater value, explicit or tacit knowledge? Justify your answer.

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Whether explicit or tacit knowledge is more important is entirely a matter of topic. Explicit knowledge, knowledge attained through recorded information that or may not reflect varying degrees of scholarship (i.e., knowledge attained through scientific methodology) is easy to pass along, precisely because it does exist in a hard format.

Tacit knowledge, in contrast, is that attained through personal observation and experience. Tacit knowledge is not as easy to convey as explicit knowledge, because it is more likely to exist within one’s subconscious—a skill developed over time through personal experience and not recorded in any way because it involves subtleties we absorb through first-hand experimentation.

One is not necessarily more important than the other. On the surface, it might appear as though explicit knowledge is more important because it is communicable and might reflect the process of scholarship. What makes one hesitate to arrive at that conclusion, however, is the fact that no amount of formal instruction via recorded information can substitute for the tacit knowledge attained through practical application of explicit knowledge.

There are any number of examples that can be applied to a discussion over the relative merits of explicit versus tacit knowledge. Few among us are seriously skilled at a very broad category of activities, even though we are capable of following instructions. Individuals especially skilled at certain activities have usually become superior at those activities because they have over time absorbed lessons learned and developed a special “feel” for how something works or should be done. We can attempt to repair a car engine through reference to the vehicle’s manual. Only individuals who have dug deeply into the field of automotive repair, however, can intuitively sense the nature of the problem and know how to fix it.

Another example consulted involves cooking. Many of us can follow a recipe and prepare a meal. This is explicit knowledge. Only a few have developed a sense of how to tweak that recipe to maximize its value. That is tacit knowledge. All surgeons have graduated from medical school and passed exams and state boards. They all know how to perform a certain operation. Few would doubt, however, that skill levels differ according to innate abilities and levels of experience.

As with most subjective topics, considerations of context are essential. The person who wrote down or otherwise recorded his or her thoughts or knowledge is providing explicit knowledge that is important for the experiences of others. Those who are naturally skilled or develop a sense of how some activity should be performed through practical experience are taking that knowledge to the next level. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two that makes them both important.

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