Different Types of Knowledge: Implicit, Tacit, and Explicit

5 min read
About the Author
Betsy Anderson
Betsy Anderson

Betsy leads the customer success and implementation teams at Bloomfire. Passionate about the people side of knowledge engagement and knowledge sharing, Betsy shares real-world experience with the challenges faced by companies with a knowledge management problem.

Jump to section

    Quick Definitions of Knowledge Types

    Explicit Knowledge: Knowledge that is easy to articulate, write down, and share.

    Implicit Knowledge: The application of explicit knowledge. Skills that are transferable from one job to another are one example of implicit knowledge.

    Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge gained from personal experience that is more difficult to express.

    When you start Googling “knowledge management,” it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of literature written since the practice was developed in the early 90’s. As you get deeper into research, you may encounter the terms “implicit, tacit, and explicit knowledge.”

    These terms describe three different types of knowledge–all of which are important for businesses to capture, maintain, and share. 

    If you’re developing a knowledge management strategy for your company or team, you need to understand the differences between these knowledge types and how they all contribute to your organization’s success.

    Want to take this resource with you? Download a 2-page PDF version of this blog, complete with a table of implicit, tacit, and explicit knowledge definitions and examples.

    Get the PDF version now.

    Tacit, Explicit, and Implicit Knowledge: What Are the Differences?

    If you’re conducting a knowledge audit (a great first step for any knowledge management strategy), it’s important to understand the differences between the three types of knowledge, as well as how they are created and stored.

    What Is Explicit Knowledge?

    Explicit knowledge is the most basic form of knowledge and is easy to pass along because it’s written down and accessible. When data is processed, organized, structured, and interpreted, the result is explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is easily articulated, recorded, communicated, and (most importantly in the world of knowledge management) stored.

    If you need an example of explicit knowledge, simply open your knowledge management platform and take a look around. Your company policies, process documents, employee handbook, research reports, etc. are all explicit company knowledge.

    What Is Implicit Knowledge?

    Implicit knowledge is the practical application of explicit knowledge. There are likely instances of implicit knowledge all around your organization. For example, consider asking a team member how to perform a task. This could spark a conversation about the range of options to perform the task, as well as the potential outcomes, leading to a thoughtful process to determine the best course of action. It is that team member’s implicit knowledge that educates the conversation of how to do something and what could happen. Additionally, best practices and skills that are transferable from job to job are examples of implicit knowledge.

    What Is Tacit Knowledge?

    Tacit knowledge is the knowledge we possess that is garnered from personal experience and context. It’s the information that, if asked, would be the most difficult to write down, articulate, or present in a tangible form.

    As an example, think of learning how to make your grandmother’s famous cookie recipe. Sure, she gave you the recipe card, but when you try it on your own you feel as if something is missing. After years of experience, she has learned the exact feel for the dough, or exactly how long the cookies should be in the oven.

    In the workplace, tacit knowledge is the application of implicit knowledge that’s specific to your company. As employees move from job to job, the application of their implicit knowledge will change based on what’s unique about your business. An example of this is a sales rep who can not only give a great demo but has also learned specific buying signs while talking to prospects.

    The Challenges of Capturing the Different Types of Knowledge

    In the end, no matter how company knowledge is defined, it all plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of running an organization. However, in order to develop a successful knowledge management strategy, you have to understand how different types of knowledge are shared and most effectively stored.

    Most organizations misdiagnose a knowledge sharing problem at the explicit knowledge level, and they build an intranet or deploy a folder-based solution in an attempt to address their issues. However, these systems fall short when it comes to capturing the context and discussion around explicit knowledge because questions and discussion still have to take place in silos. To ask questions and collaborate, teams still need to rely on chat, email, and shoulder taps—which are not recorded for everyone’s benefit.

    This silo issue is exacerbated when team members are working in different locations and don’t have the option to walk over to their coworker’s desk to get additional context or clarification. While remote or decentralized teams may be able to access explicit knowledge in a traditional intranet, it’s harder for them to tap into the implicit and tacit knowledge of the subject matter experts who produced that content.

    How to Make Implicit, Tacit, and Explicit Knowledge Accessible

    Capturing implicit and tacit knowledge may seem challenging, but a modern knowledge management platform like Bloomfire offers tools to help subject matter experts preserve knowledge in all its formats. 

    Bloomfire makes it easy for users to create content, add rich media for additional context, and find anything (not just the titles of documents) through a keyword search. Additionally, users can engage with knowledge in the platform by asking questions, adding comments, or even tagging subject matter experts so that they get notified that they were mentioned. Bloomfire also has integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams so the valuable knowledge that team members exchange in chat conversations can become part of their company’s knowledge base—and team members can easily access existing knowledge in real time.

    If you’re interested in seeing how Bloomfire can help your organization capture and share knowledge, schedule a demo.

    Note: This post was expanded and updated in June 2023.

    About the Author
    Betsy Anderson
    Betsy Anderson

    Betsy leads the customer success and implementation teams at Bloomfire. Passionate about the people side of knowledge engagement and knowledge sharing, Betsy shares real-world experience with the challenges faced by companies with a knowledge management problem.

    woman in yellow sweater with coffee smiles while browsing the best knowledge base software on her laptop
    umbrella in rain representing the ways knowledge management minimizes risk
    4 Ways Knowledge Management Minimizes Risk
    lock icon over laptop representing knowledge base security
    Request a Demo

    Start working smarter with Bloomfire

    See how Bloomfire helps companies find information, create insights, and maximize value of their most important knowledge.

    Schedule a Meeting
    Take a self guided Tour

    Take a self guided Tour

    See Bloomfire in action across several potential configurations. Imagine the potential of your team when they stop searching and start finding critical knowledge.

    Take a Test Drive