7 Types of Knowledge: Understanding the Spectrum of Knowledge In Organizational Learning

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Chris Hutchinson
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    Learning and development is inherently connected to knowledge and how we acquire it. But did you know that within the learning and educational sciences knowledge is classified into a number of different “types” and recognizing the existence and significance of different types of knowledge is crucial, especially if our goal is for others to learn. Often, we perceive knowledge as a monolithic entity, but it’s far more nuanced.

    This diversity in knowledge types not only influences how individuals grasp and apply information in various contexts but also shapes the effectiveness of organizational training and development efforts. By acknowledging this spectrum, we begin to see that knowledge is not just about accumulating information; it’s about how we interact with and apply that information in both our professional and personal lives. 

    Recognizing and understanding the varying types or categories of knowledge can provide an advantage when it comes to learning and development; understanding the knowledge type being dealt with might affect instruction or assessment methods, expectations, and even content format.

    Let’s now explore the diverse types of knowledge that play a pivotal role in shaping our understanding and application of information.

    From the explicit to the tacit, each type has its unique characteristics and applications, vital for crafting effective and impactful learning experiences. 

    What are the 7 Types of Knowledge?

    1. Explicit Knowledge
    2. Implicit Knowledge
    3. Tacit Knowledge
    4. Declarative Knowledge
    5. Procedural Knowledge
    6. Conditional Knowledge
    7. Conceptual Knowledge

    The Interplay of Knowledge Types in the Workplace 

    In any organization, employees are not just using a single type of knowledge to navigate their day-to-day tasks and projects. Instead, they weave through a complex tapestry of know-how, combining explicit knowledge with tacit understanding, procedural skills with conceptual insights.

    This interplay is often subtle but vital in determining how effectively they can meet challenges, innovate, and drive success in their roles. It’s a dance of knowledge types, each with its rhythm and purpose, contributing to the overall performance of the organization. 

    Implications for Learning and Development Programs 

    Understanding these varied types of knowledge isn’t just an academic exercise; it has practical implications for how we approach learning, training, and development within organizations.

    Different knowledge types necessitate distinct acquisition strategies – what works for developing procedural knowledge might not be as effective for fostering conceptual understanding.

    This realization is key to designing learning programs that are not just informative but transformative, ensuring they align with the actual knowledge needs and learning styles of the workforce. 

    Tailoring Training to Knowledge Types 

    When embarking on creating or developing training and learning programs, a critical step is identifying the types of knowledge involved. This identification isn’t just about content; it’s about understanding how each knowledge type influences instructional methods, sets expectations, affects the time required to achieve proficiency, and determines the means and criteria of assessment.

    Tailoring training to effectively address and nurture these different knowledge types can lead to more successful learning outcomes, ensuring employees are not just informed but empowered and capable. 

    It’s worth noting at this point that there is some variation in the categories of knowledge and their precise definitions, especially in academic literature, especially beyond “explicit knowledge” and “tacit knowledge”. We’ve done our best here to present categories and definitions that are most relevant to adult learning, professional training and development.

    Moreover, in many situations and contexts, the name and definition are less important than being able to distinguish the characteristics of the knowledge you want learners to acquire and how this might influence the instructional approach.  

    The 7 Types of Knowledge

    1. Explicit Knowledge 

    Explicit knowledge is information that is easily articulated, recorded, and shared. It’s structured, codified, and often found in documentation.

    This knowledge type is about ‘know-what’ – facts, descriptions, procedures, and principles that can be easily communicated and taught. 

    Explicit Knowledge Example

    An employee handbook detailing company policies is a form of explicit knowledge. It provides clear, accessible information that anyone in the organization can refer to and learn from. 

    Explicit Knowledge Application

    Explicit knowledge is fundamental in formal training and education, where specific information and procedures need to be conveyed clearly and consistently. 

    2. Implicit Knowledge 

    Implicit knowledge emerges from personal experience and the application of explicit knowledge. It is not as easily codified but can be expressed and documented to some extent. This knowledge type includes insights and intuitions developed through practice and familiarity. 

    Implicit Knowledge Example

    A marketer who, after years of working with different advertising platforms, develops an intuitive sense of crafting effective ad campaigns. They started with explicit knowledge about advertising theories and techniques but have developed a deeper, more intuitive expertise. 

    Implicit Knowledge Application

    Implicit knowledge is crucial for roles requiring a combination of technical expertise and experiential judgment, such as senior managerial positions or creative professions. 

    3. Tacit Knowledge 

    Tacit knowledge is deeply personal, often unconscious, and difficult to articulate. It encompasses skills and experiences that are ingrained through practice and habit.

    This type of knowledge is about ‘know-how’ – the intuitive skills and competencies developed over time. 

    Tacit Knowledge Example

    An experienced chef’s ability to create new recipes based on years of cooking and experimenting with flavors, where much of their knowledge is ingrained and intuitive. 

    Tacit Knowledge Application

    Tacit knowledge is often passed on through mentoring, coaching, and hands-on experience, essential in fields like craftsmanship, art, or culinary arts. 

    4. Declarative Knowledge 

    Declarative knowledge involves knowing ‘what is.’ It is about facts and information regarding events, ideas, or objects.

    This knowledge is often the starting point in learning processes, providing the foundational information on which other knowledge is built. 

    Declarative Knowledge  Example

    A software developer knowing the syntax and functions of a programming language. This foundational knowledge is necessary before they can start writing complex programs. 

    Declarative Knowledge Application

    Declarative knowledge is vital in fields where a strong base of factual knowledge is essential, such as science, technology, or law. 

    5. Procedural Knowledge 

    Procedural knowledge is the understanding of ‘how to’ perform tasks and procedures. It involves the steps and sequences necessary to complete activities, often acquired through practice and repetition. 

    Procedural Knowledge Example

    A project manager knowing the steps to create a project timeline, from defining tasks to assigning resources and setting deadlines. 

    Procedural Knowledge Application

    This type of knowledge is critical in process-driven fields like project management, engineering, or medicine. 

    6. Conditional Knowledge 

    Conditional knowledge encompasses understanding when and why certain procedures or strategies should be applied. It involves situational judgment and the ability to adapt one’s approach based on specific conditions. 

    Conditional Knowledge Example

    A financial advisor deciding the best investment strategy for a client based on their risk tolerance, financial goals, and market conditions. 

    Conditional Knowledge Application

    Conditional knowledge is crucial in fields requiring strategic decision-making and adaptability, such as finance, consulting, or business leadership. 

    7. Conceptual Knowledge 

    Conceptual knowledge involves understanding overarching principles or concepts that govern a domain or a problem. It’s about grasping the underlying framework or system that organizes individual pieces of knowledge. 

    Conceptual Knowledge Example

    An environmental scientist understanding the concepts of ecosystems and biodiversity and how they interrelate to address environmental issues. 

    Conceptual Knowledge Application

    This type of knowledge is essential for roles that require a deep understanding of complex systems, theories, or abstract concepts, like research, academic teaching, or high-level strategic planning. 

    Read: The “Teach 1 Thing” Approach to Organizational Learning and Development

    Challenges of Developing Effective Knowledge Management and Transmission: 

    Often, organizations incorrectly pinpoint the challenge of knowledge sharing at the level of explicit knowledge, leading to the implementation of intranets or file-based systems as a solution.

    While these systems do exude a simplistic elegance, they can quickly become a chaotic, digital pile of documents and frequently fail to capture the essential context and conversations surrounding explicit knowledge.

    Crucial discussions and inquiries remain compartmentalised, with teams still dependent on methods like messaging, emails, or direct conversations, which aren’t consistently documented for communal benefit.  

    This issue of compartmentalisation becomes even more pronounced in scenarios where team members are geographically dispersed and can’t simply walk up to a colleague’s desk for deeper insights or explanations.

    While remote or distributed teams might have access to explicit knowledge through a standard intranet, they face greater challenges in accessing the implicit and tacit knowledge held by experts who created that content. 

    Addressing the Challenges

    In addressing these challenges, the role of a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) like CLANED becomes pivotal. Beyond merely serving as a repository for information, (like an intranet or folder-based solution) an LXP can revolutionize how knowledge is transmitted and assimilated within an organization, particularly when dealing with nuanced forms of knowledge like implicit or tacit understanding. 

    CLANED, as an LXP, offers a dynamic and interactive platform where knowledge is not just stored but is made alive through structured and collaborative learning experiences. Unlike traditional intranets or file-based systems, it facilitates the contextualization of explicit knowledge, thereby enabling a deeper understanding. By integrating features such as discussion forums, collaborative workspaces, and social learning tools, CLANED breaks down the silos that often hinder effective knowledge sharing. 

    Furthermore, for teams that are remote or decentralized, CLANED provides an invaluable space for connecting with subject matter experts and accessing their implicit and tacit knowledge. Through interactive content, Q&A sessions, and real-time discussions, team members can gain insights and clarifications directly from experts, regardless of their physical location. This approach not only democratizes access to expert knowledge but also nurtures a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing across the organization. 

    Finally, by applying the Learning Design knowledge of our digital learning experts and resources, you’ll be able to apply the best tools and methods, aligning the nature of the learning scenario, the needs of the learners, and the overall organizational goals, leading to more impactful, meaningful and comprehensive learning experiences. 

    By leveraging the capabilities of an LXP like CLANED, organizations can transcend the limitations of traditional knowledge management systems. This transition from simply storing information to actively facilitating knowledge acquisition and sharing is essential in today’s fast-paced and increasingly remote working environments. It ensures that all forms of knowledge, especially those that are less tangible and more experiential, are effectively captured and utilized for the collective growth and innovation of the organization. 


    Recognizing and effectively managing and approaching the diverse types of knowledge is crucial for the success of any organization when developing learning and development programs, regardless of their scope or audience. Each form of knowledge plays a unique role in the tapestry of learning and development, influencing how information is acquired, shared, and applied in professional settings.

    The transition from traditional knowledge storage to dynamic knowledge sharing and acquisition, as facilitated by Learning Experience Platforms like CLANED, marks a significant shift in how we approach organizational learning.

    By embracing an advanced platform, learning design, and social and collaborative approaches to learning, we can ensure that knowledge, in all its forms, is not just preserved but is also actively cultivated and disseminated across teams and individuals.

    This holistic approach to knowledge management and learning fosters a culture of continuous learning and collaboration, paving the way for innovation, efficiency, and sustained growth in an ever-evolving professional landscape. 

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