Tacit Knowledge (From Simulation) Adds to Situational Awareness

situational awareness

Richard B. Gasaway PhD, Fire Chief, RET. shared a recent post on his website Situational Awareness Matters!™ about the benefits of “tacit knowledge”. What is tacit knowledge? Richard explains:

“Tacit knowledge is the collection of life’s experiences, education and training that reside outside conscious awareness.  It’s the knowledge one possess that helps guide intuition, a vital component to making high-stress, high-consequence, split second decisions.

As you go through life you purposefully acquire a lot of information. You also acquire as much, if not more, information unintentionally. Your senses are very perceptive to environmental clues and cues and they’re always processing and analyzing what is happening around you. While you may not know it, your brain is recording and storing some of those experiences. That is part of your tacit knowledge.

As you consciously navigate through life you are also perceiving and storing information. Some of this information you can recall quickly and flawlessly. Some if it is difficult to remember. The information stored, but outside of the ready recall region, is in part, tacit knowledge.

As you have similar experiences over and over again, your brain stores patterns of information from those experiences that become routines your brain can call up that will guide your decision making. Those stored patterns are, in part, tacit knowledge.”


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tacit knowledge

At WISER’S Nursing Symposium on Simulation last week, Director Dr. Paul Phrampus reminded us during his opening keynote that simulation provides for a learned experience which adds to the experiences available to healthcare professionals when they encounter a patient.  Thus, the tacit knowledge gained from simulations can add to both the conscious and unconscious experience healthcare learners have when engaging future patients. Just like coaches always tell us when playing a new sport, “you need to build muscle memory” – which is not something exactly understood or explained to others.

And indeed, Richard continues this theory by sharing just how we develop tacit knowledge: “The only way to develop tacit knowledge is exposure to new experiences (i.e., learning) and repetitive exposure to existing experiences (i.e., practice). Novices can advance the development of tacit knowledge by training in realistic and repetitive scenarios and by exposure to lessons of past successes and failures (near-miss reports, case studies, line of duty death reports, videos, etc.).”

Read Richard’s entire article on Tacit Knowledge and Situational Awareness for more powerful insights into tacit knowledge, which clearly has a direct relationship to medical simulation.

Richard B. Gasaway is a scholar-practitioner with a passion for improving workplace safety. In addition to serving 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic and fire chief, he earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree while studying how individuals, teams and organizations develop and maintain situational awareness and make decisions in high stress, high consequence, time compressed environments. Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on first responder situational awareness and decision making. Visit his website http://www.samatters.com/ to learn more.


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