On Apprenticeship / by Muhammad Amir Ayub

The following was posted by Bill Hartman but the link on his page seemed to has disappeared. So I'm posting it here before it disappears as it's pretty meaningful.

There is always a need for apprenticeship in education. Passing an exam may not make you "truly qualified". Nevertheless, I want to pass ASAP (who wouldn't).

“Knowledge is what you gain from experience, Wisdom is what you gain from someone else’s experience.”

I have no idea to whom to attribute the above quote. It sounds Einstein-ish, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to leave that open for discussion and for those who have time to search for the original thought master.

My interpretation of the quote directs my thoughts to the importance of apprenticeship or mentorship. I refer to my interns as Padawans, obviously in tribute the Star Wars franchise, because it’s fun and as it represents a step in their developmental process in acquiring useful knowledge beyond that which is provided by their formal education.

I don’t negate the value of their formal education, but it is the knowledge that they will gain in context (working directly with patients and clients) that will ultimately determine their ability to be successful in such a complex environment and become a master of their craft. While I was still in school, I recall asking my sister, the doctor (for some reason, this subtitle always follows her), how much of her formal education she actually used daily to treat her patients. Her response was, “About 10%.” It turns out that, generally speaking, she was probably correct.1

Harold Jarche provides an excellent explanation and differentiation of the different forms of knowledge that we acquire and how this knowledge ranks in value depending on the context of the environment.

He breaks up knowledge into 3 basic categories:

Explicit Knowledge

This is more formalized and systematic education that we are all familiar with. Read a book, take a course, or learn a system. Easy to teach and easy to learn. This is foundational knowledge that is often taught without context. This may also be useful in situations with direct cause and effect in predictable environments. It’s very machine-like. Specific inputs result in known outputs. Perhaps some specialized knowledge is required but things remain in a specific complicated domain with direct cause and effect versus drifting into the unpredictable complex domain. I tend to think of my favorite auto mechanic in this case. He runs his diagnostic knowing that my car runs in a very specific manner via very specific parts. He fixes the problem by replacing the defective parts, and my car runs well again.

But what happens when we are faced with unknowns in response to our inputs or interventions as in the rehab and fitness training realm? While we like to think that humans behave in predictable manner one only needs to dip their toe into the waters of the biopsyochosocial model, spend a little time actually treating patients or working with fitness clients to know that you have now drifted into an unpredictable context of complexity.

Explicit knowledge is of limited value and often fails in this situation.

Implicit Knowledge

Implicit knowledge comes from personal interpretation of information and application in a complex environment. It’s not that it can’t be organized systematically, it’s just that it may be difficult to do so. In complex contexts, there are multiple potential interventions (aka, more than one correct answer) that may result in the desired outcome, and there may be multiple potential outcomes depending on the constraints of the environment, the client or patient, and the task that is involved. Over time, some implicit knowledge associated with experience may become explicit through many repetitions, but to act effectively, one would still need to gain implicit knowledge to even understand the potential options available.

This is the value of experience and mentorship in acquiring this implicit knowledge. As the Jedi Master does his work in the complex environment, his narrative provides his interpretation of how he sees the context, what his intent may be, and then his interpretation of the outcome. This cannot be acquired explicitly.

Tacit Knowledge

If we considered knowledge a continuum with explicit knowledge at one end, the other end would be defined by tacit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge is much like implicit knowledge in that it is not systematized, but in many cases, it cannot be. Tacit knowledge is often difficult to even convey and may require multiple exposures to gain an understanding. To quote Michael Polyani, this type of knowledge falls into the “We can know more than we can tell” category. Tacit knowledge requires observation, interaction, and imitation.

Every semester, I take on a new Padawan and one of the first recommendations I make is for them to internalize my explanations, my coaching cues, my stories, and even my jokes that I make as I work with patients. This leads them to develop a foundation upon which tacit knowledge and a useful model can be built. Through regular Q & A and reflection, a narrative can evolve to clarify thought, intent, and interpretation. The Padawan also benefits from his interaction with our other staff at IFAST and with our ever-growing network of IFAST Family represented by a diverse group of practitioners and coaches. This is essential within the complex environment of coaching clients and working with patients as they gain the wisdom of others experience.

Expertise in any complex environment is derived mostly from experience (as much as 70%). Every apprentice requires a mentor and a network to truly move toward mastery.