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Tacit knowledge the key to lifelong learning

Society is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Any organisation that wants to keep up must change - again and again. But implementing new ways of working in a large organisation is easier said than done. The key may lie in what happens quietly. 

Throughout history, mankind has seen society change. But the changes of our time are unique.

"It is happening faster, on a larger scale and in several places at once. We are in the midst of a green transition to a circular economy, and at the same time we are experiencing the biggest technological development since the advent of digitalisation," says Katrin Skagert, researcher in work environment and business development at RISE. 

Organisations need to redefine their approach to knowledge 

As society changes, we risk having a shortage of workers with the right skills. We have already had to get used to skills shortages in Sweden, as in the rest of Europe, and this is only the beginning. In the future, the content of our jobs is likely to change several times in our lifetimes.

"To keep up with these enormous changes, organisations need to redefine their approach to knowledge and education. It's not enough to go to university and think you're done, we need to learn throughout our lives," says Katrin Skagert.  

The big difference between education and lifelong learning is that education is linked to a time frame and therefore risks becoming irrelevant or forgotten over time. Instead, learning is something that happens every day, throughout life. Both at work and at home. 

A guide to learning at work

By involving all parts of an organisation in learning, we increase the organisation's capacity for change and innovation, as well as individual engagement and contribution. Our guide will help you in your efforts to create the conditions for learning in your organisation.


Download guide

But implementing lifelong learning in your organisation is not just about sending people on a course.  

"I think it is more interesting to look at learning as a development process. One-off actions may increase knowledge, but they do not create learning. A kick-off can be important, but if it is not followed up, it often does not lead to long-term development," says Katrin Skagert.

Risk of becoming irrelevant 

Those who do not take this approach risk falling behind and becoming irrelevant. It is therefore important to create the conditions for lifelong learning.

"If you do not invest in this, there is a great risk that you will not be relevant in the future and that you will lose part or all of your business. Neither Sverige AB nor individuals can afford to lose people in this transition. We need to equip employees with enough knowledge to be prepared for major changes."

Organisations that make sure their employees are ready for rapid change will be successful in the future. Katrin gives an example from one of her research and development projects with an industrial company.

"When COVID-19 came along, they were able to use their established work processes to quickly switch to homeworking and then deal with the major challenges of homeworking."

So what was the approach that helped the industrial company? Katrin Skagert explains that they had systems and working methods in place for continuous improvement. In addition, they trusted the teams themselves to continuously develop their processes and apply them to their new challenges to discuss the best solutions.  

In this way, RISE helps organisations adapt to function in times of crisis and major change.

"We can help individual organisations to develop learning approaches. The aim is that they can then develop these methods themselves. This prepares individuals, companies and organisations for future, as yet unknown changes - as in the example of the industrial company," says Katrin Skagert. 

Much can be gained from making tacit knowledge visible

Lifelong learning is based on people sharing knowledge with each other

Researchers talk about 'tacit knowledge' - knowledge that is so ingrained in us that we use it without thinking about it. Lifelong learning happens when people in an organisation start to share this tacit knowledge with each other.

"There is much to be gained by making this tacit knowledge visible. It can then be shared across the organisation using standardised work processes."  

One model that can be useful for this is the SECI model*, which consists of four different components. These include creating a structure for shared reflection and allowing people to observe their colleagues. Another component involves the development of thoughts, ideas and experiences in words, images and text.

"The last two components integrate both tacit and explicit knowledge from different parts of the organisation, from the perspective of customers, employees and management. When new knowledge is then disseminated internally, the explicit knowledge is transformed back into tacit knowledge by a new individual. This develops everyone's skills and experience, helping the organisation to solve problems and deal with uncertainty."

Tailoring teams to any organisation 

Although learning in organisations is best done systematically, there is no universal recipe for implementing this way of thinking.  

"We always start with the company we are working with and look at how we can systematise learning for the specific company or organisation. We look at how development and learning is currently organised, how people are involved in learning, and how we can extend the knowledge of individuals to more people in the team and organisation."

"The most important thing is to put the new ways of working or solutions into practice, otherwise there is not much value. We come in and support, but we don't tell them how to do things," says Katrin Skagert.


*Nonaka, I., et al. (2000). "SECI, Ba and Leadership: a Unified Model of Dynamic Knowledge Creation." Long Range Planning 33(1): 5-34. 

How to start lifelong learning in your organisation 

  1. Enjoy the mistakes! Encourage people to share their mistakes and discuss what they learn from them. Mistakes are learning opportunities! 
  2. Establish routines - and stick to them! Create a structure for ongoing sharing of experience and knowledge by setting a time and place. See it as part of the job, not just something that happens on a course or at an occasional event. 
  3. Give responsibility! Build on people's own interest in different topics and let them take more responsibility for gaining knowledge. Then ask for the knowledge and create opportunities to share it with colleagues.
Katrin Skagert

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Katrin Skagert


+46 73 803 80 54

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