The 7 Types of Knowledge: Definitions, Examples & More
There are 7 core types of knowledge that work together to shape the way we exchange information and learn new concepts. Here's everything you need to know about what knowledge is and the different forms it can take.
We're all familiar with the word 'knowledge.' The chances are you've said it and heard it at work or in your persona life in the last few months. But did you know that there are many different types of knowledge? Understanding how, say, 'explicit knowledge' differs from 'tacit knowledge' can go a long way to helping you better understand the world–especially if your work involves building a knowledge management strategy or being a knowledge manager.
In this guide, we'll define the seven core types of knowledge and give you examples of how each of them shows up in our day-to-day lives. Let’s dive in!
What are the 7 types of knowledge?
A Posteriori knowledge
A Priori knowledge
What is knowledge?
Before we explore the 7 knowledge types in detail, let's establish a definition of the word 'knowledge.' Simply put, knowledge is the aggregated information, facts, skills, and understanding about a subject that a person gains through education, experience, and reasoning.
In the workplace, a company's success is often based on the quality and accessibility of its knowledge, and the extent to which it's shared. In fact, research has found that knowledge sharing increases the creativity, innovation, and overall performance of businesses worldwide.
The 7 types of knowledge
1. Explicit knowledge
Explicit knowledge is knowledge covering topics that are easy to systematically document (in writing), and share out at scale: what we think of as structured information. When explicit knowledge is well-managed, it can help a company make better decisions, save time, and maintain an increase in performance.
These types of explicit knowledge are all things that have traditionally been what has been captured in a knowledge base or as part of a knowledge management strategy. It’s formalized documentation that can be used to do a job, make a decision, or inform an audience.
Explicit knowledge examples
Companies can share explicit knowledge by maintaining well-documented information in their knowledge base. Examples of explicit knowledge include things like FAQs, instructions, raw data and related reports, diagrams, one-sheets, and strategy slide decks.
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2. Implicit knowledge
Implicit knowledge is, essentially, learned skills or know-how. It is gained by taking explicit knowledge and applying it to a specific situation. If explicit knowledge is a book on the mechanics of flight and a layout diagram of an airplane cockpit, implicit knowledge is what happens when you apply that information in order to fly the plane.
Implicit knowledge is gained when you learn the best way to do something. You can then take that experience and synthesize it with other learned information in order to solve an entirely new problem.
This type of knowledge has traditionally been excluded from formal knowledge bases, as it can be difficult to document and capture in a scalable way. In order to add it to a knowledge base, think of it this way: “What new thing did I learn, would it be useful to others, and how can I explain it?” Here is an example of documented implicit knowledge:
Implicit knowledge examples
While implicit knowledge can be more difficult to document, some examples of implicit knowledge could include an individual’s ability to prioritize tasks or juggle projects to meet deadlines.
3. Tacit knowledge
Tacit knowledge is intangible information that can be difficult to explain in a straightforward way, such as things that are often “understood” without necessarily being said, and are often personal or cultural. This type of knowledge is informal, learned with experience over time, and usually applies to a specific situation.
When it can be captured (if it’s not, for instance, a feeling), it should be added to a knowledge base. Doing so makes it easy to share expertise gained over time with others who may need it.
Tacit knowledge examples
Tacit knowledge can be difficult to transfer and usually isn’t able to be stored. An example of tacit knowledge could be a salesperson’s ability to know the perfect time to give their pitch during a meeting. A combination of experience, reading social cues, and other personal factors must come together to form that unique bit of knowledge.
Since this knowledge is learned with experience over time, companies can help employees strengthen their tacit knowledge by sharing techniques and tips on handling certain situations. An example of this could be a list of phrases for sales leads to look out for when dealing with customer complaints. The sales lead could better understand how to ‘read’ or rectify a situation by being prepared with possible conversation outcomes.
Declarative knowledge which can be also understood as propositional knowledge, refers to static information and facts that are specific to a given topic, which can be easily accessed and retrieved. It’s a type of knowledge where the individual is consciously aware of their understanding of the subject matter.
This type of knowledge is typically stored in documentation or databases and focuses more on the 'who', 'what', 'where', and 'when' behind information and less on the 'how' or 'why'. When documented, it creates the foundation for understanding the subject matter and can help companies improve how they share procedural and explicit knowledge.
Declarative knowledge examples
Some examples of declarative knowledge include an individual's ability to know what the company goals are for the year. The individual can also understand how performance will be measured due to reading the company newsletter where the goals and metrics are shared across teams.
5. Procedural knowledge
Procedural knowledge focuses on the ‘how’ behind which things operate, and is demonstrated through one’s ability to do something. Where declarative knowledge focuses more on the ‘who, what, where, or when’, procedural knowledge is less articulated and shown through action or documented through manuals.
Procedural knowledge examples
Stemming from the root “procedure”, an example of procedural knowledge could include a standard operating procedure on how to do specific tasks, or use certain equipment in an organization.
6. A Posteriori knowledge
A posteriori knowledge is a subjective type of knowledge that is gained from individual experience. While this type of knowledge isn’t one to be documented on a company’s knowledge base, it still plays a critical role in the success of teams. This kind of knowledge gives individuals the ability to know their strengths and weaknesses that stem from their experiences, and can help companies diversify their teams skill set.
A Posteriori knowledge examples
Due to a posteriori knowledge being derived from individual experiences, some examples of a posteriori knowledge could include an individual's ability to lead teams based on their previous roles in management, or the ability to de-escalate or diffuse tense situations.
7. A Priori knowledge
A priori knowledge is the opposite of posteriori knowledge, and is gained independent of experience or evidence. This type of knowledge is often shared through logical reasoning, or one's ability to think abstractly. Although a priori knowledge isn’t necessarily documented, it’s often shown in the form of team’s ability to understand and reason when faced with situations.
A Priori knowledge examples
Examples of a priori knowledge could include one’s ability to excel in mathematics, or logical reasoning due to their natural ability to understand and interpret information without needing further explanation.
Frequently asked questions about the types of knowledge
What is the importance of explicit knowledge?
Explicit knowledge plays an important role in organizations, due to its ability to be easily articulated, documented, and accessed. Since explicit knowledge can be easily shared across teams, this type of knowledge allows companies to save time by maintaining a single source of truth.
How can explicit knowledge be improved?
Explicit knowledge maintains a single source of truth within an organization, being open to team feedback on ideas for continuous improvement can help improve explicit knowledge.
How do you gain tacit knowledge?
One of the easiest ways to gain tacit knowledge is by observing others in the workplace, whether it be how they prioritize, address or scale tasks and projects.
What are the positive aspects of procedural knowledge?
Since procedural knowledge is focused on the ability to take action, some positive aspects of procedural knowledge include being goal-oriented and having the ability to problem-solve.
What is the most common type of knowledge used in organizations?
Explicit knowledge is the most common knowledge used across organizations since it is easiest to articulate, document, and transfer. It encompasses facts, procedures, rules, and other information that can be easily communicated and shared through written documents, databases, manuals, and standard operating procedures.