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Explicit knowledge is knowledge and information that can be expressed or written down and is easy for humans to communicate. For example, whenever someone enrolls in a class or reads a book, he or she is taking in explicit knowledge. Visual and oral means, such as speaking or showing someone knowledge, is another example of the explicit variety. Opposed to knowledge that is explicit is knowledge that is tacit, or knowledge that is difficult to communicate. Both explicit and tacit knowledge play major roles in working and living.
When someone uses explicit knowledge, he or she is expressing or understanding knowledge that is easy to quantify. Book knowledge, images, numbers and formulas are all types of explicit information. This type of information is needed for everyday life because people need certain skills to work and to operate machinery such as cars and television sets.
Tacit knowledge describes information that cannot easily be explained. The most common type of tacit knowledge is knowledge gathered from experience, and not books, where the person who has the knowledge cannot articulate why he or she knows something or even knows why it is true.
Although it might seem impossible, tacit and explicit knowledge often cross each other. A programmer knows how to create a program and can teach other people the same programming language, but he or she might not understand exactly how the computer processes and actually utilizes the program. A painter can teach someone how to paint and mix colors but might find it difficult to teach someone how to interpret art. Most of these tacit areas are gained only from personal experience.
A goal of many writers, teachers and businesses is to turn tacit information into explicit information. Creating manuals or classes on the subject does this, but there is also a conversion process. Although someone can tell people about tacit knowledge, simple communication might be ineffective.
Turning tacit knowledge into explicit usually requires building rules around the subject. Some examples of this are professional food critics and food tasters, who know how something tastes but may have difficulty turning that knowledge of taste into quantifiable words. To alleviate this, scales are used to more accurately measure the taste of food, but the explicit understanding of taste does not fully describe the experience associated with eating the food.
Explicit knowledge often has rules that are broken by experience. One can even say that explicit knowledge is the birthplace of tacit knowledge. This is because when someone learns how to set up a machine or system based on rules, he or she figures out a better way of setting up the same system that is not exactly what the rules imply.