Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tacit vs. Explicit Knowledge in the 21st Century

I have been reading an intriguing article published by the Canadian Journal of Learning and technology entitled The Framework of Knowledge Creation for Online Learning.

I have found it an interesting article namely because it discusses an interesting paradox between explicit and tacit knowledge and the role technology plays in the facilitation of the process.

My understanding is that explicit knowledge is the concrete fact that can be disseminatd by the instructor in the form of books, personal knowledge or any other form of factual material. This is the "old school" tradition. Here are the facts, learn them, pass the test and move on. It's this kind of education that has lead to centuries of students asking when am I ever going to use this in real life.

The idea of tacit knowledge is the absorption, internalization and application of this knowledge. This is where technology can play a major role. It can take simple facts and make them tangible exciting forces of learning.

What better place for this dichotomy to merge than the Blogosphere that is Web 2.0. By creating a repository for explicit knowledge via blogs, wikis and social online communities, teachers and students alike have the ability to crete tacit knowledge that can be applied to real life scenarios.

Let's apply this to a real life, albeit hypothetical, scenario. Let's say a classroom in Barbourville, Kentucky is studying the apartheid in South Africa. The teacher goes online and finds a lesson plan that coincides with the Jim Lehrer newshour at PBS TeacherSource (incidentally this appears to be an excellent source of lesson plans online -- maybe a topic for a future post).

Now by itself, this is an excellent source of explicit knowledge. There are plenty of opportunities to garner knowledge. This syllabi for this lesson suggests it should take two class periods and touches on the disciplinary standards of History, Geography, Civics and Government and Economics. It includes a Web Quest, additional reading materials, definitions and exercises. Alone this could facilitate tacit knowledge by creating emotions and getting students to think and interpolate the facts.

But why stop there? This is a question I ask a lot! What if the instructor went to the Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connections website and found a teacher in South Africa willing to use the same lesson plan with their students?

Now the instructors have an opportunity for collaborative tacit learning that students in both countries can benefit from. The possibilities here become endless because now international connections have been made and the topic truly becomes real. Depending on the levels of technology involved on "both sides of the pond", the teachers could host a town meeting using the video features of Skype and let students discuss their answers "face to face". Of course with minimal technology, the classrooms could collaborate on a Blog or e-mail questions to each other. As you can see, the possibilities can become limitless.

A teacher can provide an excellent service by providing explicit knowledge. It gives the student a chance to garner information. A 21st century teacher should take that knowledge and facilitate learning that will last a lifetime.

Incidentially, the links and ideas I have provided are extremely tangible. If anyone finds this information useful or is already doing similar projects, I'd love to hear about them at JGubbins207@gmail.com.
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