Tacit Knowing in Digital realms

Tacit knowledge can be a hard nut to crack. The elusive nature of a definition creates an informational onomatopoeia of sorts. In short, tacit knowledge is the information that is built into everyday life. For the industrial designer, tacit knowledge may be a well designed tool.

Please, hammer, don't hurt 'em

For the athlete, tacit knowledge is shaking off a tackle or switching feet on the mound. For the student in the here and now, it may be the difference between successfully and unsuccessfully navigating what are becoming the most important years. For the teacher of today, it may create levels of avoidance because the knowledge is not activated and the interactions necessary for transfer are not in place. This leaves a significant gap between those with a perceived ability and those left wanting.

Without getting into semantics, I will tell you that I will not be referring to modern students as 21st century students, or digital natives, or even digital primitives. It all sounds so silly. Regardless of the era, those who were young and readily exposed to new contraptions have been early adopters. For wont of another label and for some credit to their name, many race to describe them in some novel manner. Oh well. Let us just say “students” and I think we have made ourselves more than clear.

In digital realms, we are drawn to interfaces and technology that fits. We seek out stuff that is well designed and makes sense when it is being used. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds complacency and a loss of development. We are not separated by generations of loss, but by generations of access and novelty. Some of us remember the touch-and-feel lawsuits of the 1980’s in which it was argued that the familiarity of the interface was a unique and, more importantly, a feature worthy of protection. Nowadays, it is expected that all software has a similar touch and feel and customers are sold on other features.

All novelty aside, the narrow set of options that exist in the digital scheme make for ready adjustment from product to product. From the outside, it may seem a reasonable statement that children are getting smarter and more adept but in reality, there are many simple explanations for this phenomena. The steady diet of technology exposure is an obvious attribute. The next may be the ready access to similar sorts of technology and the final is the likely good design. Products are doing much more with much less. Smart buttons on products replace entire strips of knobs and entire keyboard options of previous models. I would argue that folks in my generation (either pushing or pulling 40) look at a lack of buttons, like the iPod, as a potential issue–How can you do anything with that? It only has one button! Now, anyone with a full keyboard on their phone is probably ordering Brontosaurus Burgers on his bag phone. Right?

One of the primary considerations that we must maintain is that these demonstrations of skills do not imply thorough knowledge or deep skills. Observing a student interacting with materials in effective and appropriate ways does not suggest that they possess other skills with those products or interfaces. That is not to say that we ignore these abilities but that we build on them. Use these as points of inquiry on our part to explore the depths of knowledge so that we may best activate, access, and build on skills.

Be aware of your own trepidation regarding some digital technologies that may give you pause when you perceive a competent student. Make use of these situations to co-learn, to explore, and to create deep learning experiences. Facilitate exploration and fill gaps in student knowledge so that they are able to increase their skills while maintaining or building upon their self-efficacy beliefs. Model the kinds of attitudes that you wish to see in your students: take risks, explore, ask questions, take notes, and say thanks. You just learned something, too.

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5 Comments

  • Tacit knowledge “includes inexpressible associations which give rise to new applications of the old” (Doing What Comes Naturally). For a teacher, tacit knowledge is in the past: the language used to teach when writing on chalkboards, for example.

    Currently, teachers’ separate sets of tacit knowledge are clashing: that of of non-tech teacher with their tacit tech-knowledge from their personal lives. The processes through which we respond to teaching with new technology may allow us to blend mediums and gadgets with our lessons, thus creating new uses for media which center on education, and vise versa. And tacit knowledge moves forward…the new becomes the norm.

    However, knowledge grows with experience, some teachers may stick with chalkboards because they are tacit at this point. Tech can’t be tacit to teachers until it is experienced. After tacit teaching language is able to be blended with tech through training, teaching tech can become the new tacit language. From there, teachers choose their own format, and many are available via multiple platforms; we won’t know our preferred format until we meet it.

  • Dr. Timony wrote:

    Thank you for your post. You have managed to add a level of clarification that was missing. In the blog, I am specifically referring to what Polanyi referred to as Tacit Knowing–the process of coming into contact with something new and drawing together prior knowledge, making judgments, and inferring usage based on perceptions drawn from clues present in the item or situation itself. Depending on these, as well as other factors, a tool may have an obvious method of usage and built in skills. Put a child in a room with a hammer and they will pick it up by the handle and hit things with it (oversimplification). Place a child in a room with a video game system and there is a set of assumptions based on perception and prior experience that facilitates what may appear to be informed knowledge. It is possible that what is sometimes referring to as a natural skill is a genuine example of tacit knowing.

    Stephen Gourlay calls it “the power of perceiving coherence.” Well put.

  • Thank you for writing about Polanyi. The notion that “we can know more than we can say” has always intrigued me. It helped me learn to trust my intuition and the intuition of others. If we think of intuition as crystallized knowledge and account for the tacit dimension, then intuition need not be thought of as new age nonsense. Thanks for the enjoyable read.

  • sounds like a theory of improv
    as well as gestalt psychology.

    I like it.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. David D. Timony, Stephanie. Stephanie said: @DrTimony just replied to your #tacitknowledge post-very interesting implications for promotion of #edtech! http://tinyurl.com/2amyhzo […]

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