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Transfering Tacit Knowledge/Knowing?


The transfer of tacit knowledge/knowing (experience, know-how etc) is difficult, and is best achieved by ‘doing’, i.e. ‘reinventing the wheel’ is recognised as being the best way of gaining understanding (Leonard & Swap 2004). 

Whilst reinventing the wheel implies negative aspects such as increased cost and risk of failure, support from a suitable expert can maximise learning and minimise negative attributes, fast-tracking the process without diminishing the learning outcomes. The process of knowledge transfer from an Expert to a Novice was defined using 8 steps that progress from passive reception to active learning (Leonard & Swap 2004). I’ve adapted the steps as shown below:

  1. Directives – Expert provides core fundamentals of theory
  2. Rules of Thumb – Expert provides implementation guidance
  3. Stories with a moral – Expert provides examples of doing
  4. Socratic questioning – Novice questions “what happens if…?”
  5. Guided practice – Novice tries to use theory to get a feel for doing it
  6. Guided observation – Novice then observes Expert to witness how it should be done
  7. Guided problem solving – Expert and Novice work together to embed understanding
  8. Guided experimentation – Novice then does work over and over again and Expert checks work (with deceasing frequency)

 Using this 8 step process enables an individual to move through the 5 levels of development from Novice to Expert (Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986)

  1. Novice
  2. Advanced Beginner
  3. Competent Beginner
  4. Proficient Beginner
  5. Expert

and so achieve the transition from Mode 1 knowledge (context free, abstract and well organised) to Mode 2 knowledge (context specific, practical and know-how based) in an organised and effective manner (Langrish et al 1972).


Dreyfus, H. & Dreyfus, S. (1986) Mind Over Machine: the Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer’,New York, Free Press.

Langrish, J., Gibbons, M., Evans, W. & Jevons, F. (1972) Wealth from Knowledge,Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Leonard, D. & Swap, W. (2004) ‘Deep smarts’ in Little, S. & Ray, T. (eds.) (2005) Managing Knowledge, London, Sage, pp. 157-169 (First published in Harvard Business Review, Sept Issue, pp. 88-97).


From → KT Theory

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