#PLENK2010 Tacit Knowledge, Reflection and Personal Learning

Stephen explains about the two kinds of knowledge here.  He states:

Two different types of knowledge. Two different sets of skills. If we want people to socialize, to conform, to follow rules, we’ll focus on the repetition of the symbols and codes that constitute explicit knowledge, to have them become expert in what Wittgenstein called “language games,” the public performance of language. But if we want people to learn, then we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and other bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to, the social conventions. We cannot simply learn the words. “A great deal of medicine can be remembered even after one has forgotten the use of medical terms.”

So which types of knowledge are most relevant to networked learning? Stephen argues that we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to the social conventions.  That’s wonderful!

I am interested in exploring tacit knowledge and so in my previous post I have tried to relate tacit knowledge with knowledge management.

I would like to explore tacit knowledge, reflection and personal learning.

(a) What is the meaning of tacit knowledge?

In this article about tacit knowledge, Sveiby explains Polanyi’s concept of knowledge, which is based on three main theses: First, true discovery, cannot be accounted for by a set of articulated rules or algorithms.  Second, knowledge is public and also to a very great extent personal (i.e. it is constructed by humans and therefore contains emotions, “passion”).  Third, the knowledge that underlies the explicit knowledge is more fundamental, all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.

Knowledge is thus not private but social.  Socially conveyed knowledge blends with the experience of reality of the individual.  Our knowledge therefore rests in a tacit dimension.  I have shared the concept of explicit and tacit knowledge here on What is knowledge and learning.

(b) What is Tacit and Focal Knowledge?

Knowledge about the object or phenomenon that is in focus – focal knowledge

Knowledge that is used as a tool to handle or improve what is in focus – tacit knowledge.

The integration of knowledge is a personal skill in itself.  Such integration is often revealed in the use of PLN in learning, where one would reflect on the existing knowledge and blend that with new knowledge in probing,  sensing, and responding to complex learning situations.  This often involves sensemaking and wayfinding when learning through personal and social networks.

Take cycling as an example, a novice cyclist would likely learn how to ride a bicycle through a number of steps: (a) by observing someone riding a bicycle, (b) by riding a bicycle him/herself, (c) by trial and error, he/she would try using different balancing techniques, steering the bicycle, braking it using the hand brakes, (d) asking other skilled cyclists for advice and tips in cycling, and (e) developing knowledge of risks awareness in cycling  – through identification, assessment and control of risk etc., and (f) observation of safety rules and regulations whilst cycling on the road.

So, the mastery of cycling technique by a novice cyclist is normally done through a number of stages, though the learner might have undergone such stages unconsciously, where tacit knowledge such as balancing of the bicycle with motor skills, sensing the steering with eye-hand-body coordination, responding to emergency and having risks awareness might have all integrated into the knowledge building and growth in the learning.  Progressive practice, continuous reflection through further refinement of cycling skills and consulting with other knowledgeable cyclist could all help the learner cyclist in building further competence in riding a bicycle .  Such learning practice would also require confidence building with the learner.  A learner may also need the support from peers to sustain the interests in cycling.  The tacit knowledge associated with cycling might also be revealed through do-fail-re-do-practice-reflect and review cycle where the learner gradually understands the techniques and skills involved in driving a bicycle.

So the knowledge of cycling is an activity which could be better described as a process of knowing.  Polanyi regards knowledge as both static “knowledge” and dynamic “knowing”.

(c) What is reflection in teacher education?

What is reflection in teacher education? In this Teacher reflection in a hall of mirrors: Historical influences and political reverberations by Lynn Fendler, she traces the genealogy of reflection in teacher education by seeking the conditions of its emergence through the influences of Descartes, Dewey, Schön, and feminism. Drawing on the critical lenses of Foucaultian genealogy and the sociology of scientific knowledge,the analysis investigates how the complicated meanings of reflection get played out in complex and contradictory ways through research practices. So reflection has always been an important part of learning development amongst educators, and that reflection should go beyond the instrumental reflection.

Reflective thinking in teacher education is often practiced using the technique of writing in journals. Journaling, which is usually intended as a means by which teachers and students can get in touch with their own and each other’s thoughts, can also be considered to be a form of surveillance and an exercise of pastoral power.

So, when a learner is posting reflective journals or posts on their blog posts (as part of PLE/N), would this be viewed by the learners as a surveillance of his/her learning by others such as teachers and knowledgeable others?   Would this explain why some of our learners are hesitant in posting their reflection in public (like blogs, forums)?  How would educators support learners in posting their reflection? How about allowing learners to post reflections in their private space (in open source program), such as eportfolios?  This would allow learners to share their reflections with those he/she would like to share.

Steve in this notes on reflection explains the nuances in reflection and critical thinking:

Reflection must be a near relative both of critical thinking, and of deep (in contrast to shallow) learning. In fact, we can probably equate reflection with critical thinking turned on one’s own ideas and actions as opposed to those presented by others. Reflection is more often used to refer to actions, and critical thinking more often to alternative theories of the same phenomena, but the framework above applies equally to both.

This Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking by W Ulrich, Ulrich provides a rich account of boundary judgements.

He highlights that the facts we observe, and the way we evaluate them, depend on who we bound the system of concern.

Only in Habermas’ ideal world, consensus is an adequate criterion of mutual understanding.

Yet the huge body of literature around Habermas’ discourse theory of rational action has thus far hardly considered the role of boundary judgements.

Ulrich continues: Once we understand the role of boundary judgements and know how to deal with them in an open and reflective way, we can grant one another the right to have different rationalities, we can begin to understand, and agree upon, the sources of dissent.  Thus we can learn to understand one another even though we cannot agree, as our needs and interests are genuinely different.

In reflection, the concept of boundary judgements could help in understanding why conflicts and arguments in forum are often unresolved, especially when experts, knowledgeable others, novices and many legitimate peripheral participants all have different rationalities, and due to the differences in experiences and individual’s “world views”, this could lead to further disagreement and dissent in various topics which are complex in nature.  Would this also provide us with clues on how we could support experts and networkers in establishing boundary judgements?  I think this could shed light in overcoming the issue or conflict that often arise mainly because learners (both teachers and learners) may be basing their arguments on their own perspectives, rationality and critical thinking.

He concludes that:

…well-understood professionalism cannot do without a strong civil society. Only thus can professionals as well as ordinary people act as responsible citizens, that is, follow their conscience rather than group pressures toward conformity.

(d) When personal learning (based on tacit knowledge) are intersecting with social learning (based on explicit knowledge) in networks amongst networkers (learners and experts), what would the trajectory of knowledge look like?  I think this is where I would like to explore further.  Here are my further questions:

1. How would tacit knowledge be “transformed” into explicit knowledge in the social learning process (i.e. interaction in social networks)?

2. Is emergent knowledge rooted from individual tacit knowledge?

3. Would “emergent knowledge” be a result of interaction amongst the nodes (networkers, learners, experts, teachers, and agents)?


Downes, S. Two kinds of knowledge

Fendler, L. Teacher reflection in a hall of mirrors: Historical influences and political reverberations.

Ulrich. W. Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking, Reflective Practice, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2000, pp. 247-268.


3 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Tacit Knowledge, Reflection and Personal Learning

  1. Pingback: #PLENK2010 Discourse ethics | Suifaijohnmak's Weblog

  2. Pingback: #PLENK2010 Personal Learning Networks and Legitimate Peripheral Participation | Suifaijohnmak's Weblog

  3. Pingback: What does it mean to cooperate and or collaborate in #Change11 MOOC? | Learner Weblog

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