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Just-in-time learning and types of knowledge: 1

April 20, 2008

The Just-in-time approach to learning clearly has huge advantages in delivering short bursts of bespoke, context-specific knowledge or skills to learners (especially workplace learners) wherever or whenever they are needed. But there are some learning settings – ones where learning needs to be more sustained, cumulative, theoretical or collaborative in nature – where Just-in-time seems less appropriate. So exactly what types of knowledge or cognition does Just-in-time work well for? To answer that question we need some tools for thinking about categories of knowledge.

Perhaps the best known knowledge typology is that of Alice Lam, which sees knowledge as extending in two dimensions: explicit-tacit (the epistemological dimension) and individual-collective (the ontological dimension). The interplay between these dimensions gives rise to four categories of knowledge, as follows:

(Lam, 2000)

Embrained knowledge, then, is formal, abstract and conceptual knowledge. It is general, conscious and explicit and is the result of individual acts of cognition. Embodied knowledge also resides primarily within individuals, but is applied, practical, bodily, context-specific and largely unconscious. Embodied knowledge is about doing rather than knowing.

Encoded knowledge is the collective, conscious knowledge of an organisation or society which has been codified into language or information – rules, standards and systems – which then regulate behaviour. Embedded knowledge is also collective, but instead of residing in an explicit code is tacitly embedded in social practice and a community’s shared beliefs and norms. Embedded knowledge is relation-specific, contextual and dispersed.

Lam’s typology makes it clear that much of an organisation’s most valuable knowledge exists at the tacit rather than the explicit level. But tacit knowledge, being neither fully conscious nor encoded, is something which is learnt through practice and over time and is not very readily engaged with via short bursts of targeted information. Just-in-time learning, then, would appear to be most useful for learning at the level of explicit knowledge, either embrained or encoded.


Lam A, 2000. Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework. Organization Studies, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p487

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