Tacit knowlegde

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal or explicit knowledge) is the implicit (personal) knowledge that  is not directly accessible and difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing (“that which we know but cannot tell”). The term and its definition were first developed by Michael Polanyi (1891-1976). Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how”  as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science) or “know who” (networking).(1-6)

Tacit knowledge can be acquired via informal and implicit learning or gained through personal experience. Tacit knowledge may lead to routine action (or habits) and culture that we do not recognize in ourselves. By paying attention to the concept of tacit knowledge, we may have a starting point to make sense of the place of intuition in informal educational practice and in medical professional practice. In medicine, both patients and medical professionals are equipped with a wealth of tacit knowledge about health and health needs. It is a challenge to use this knowledge in decision-making processes, in parallel and complementary to explicit ‘evidence-based’ knowledge.


(1) Eraut M. Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work. Br J Educ Psychol 2000 Mar;70 ( Pt 1):113-36.

(2) Henry SG. Recognizing tacit knowledge in medical epistemology. Theor Med Bioeth 2006;27(3):187-213.

(3) Patel VL, Arocha JF, Kaufman DR. Expertise and tacit knowledge in medicine. In: Sternberg RJ, Horvath JA, editors. Tacit knowledge in professional practice: Researcher and practitioner perspectives.Mahwah N.J.:Lawrence Erlbaum: 1999. p. 75-120.

(4) Polanyi M. The Tacit Dimension. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1967.

(5) Schon D. The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books; 1983.

(6) Sternberg RJ, Horvath JA. Tacit knowledge in professional practice: Researcher and practitioner perspectives. Mahwah,N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1999.