The significance of implicit knowledge for learning and teaching chemistry
This article discusses the nature of implicit knowledge, something which is considered to be highly influential in learning. The notion of implicit knowledge is important in conceptualising studies exploring student thinking and learning in chemistry, and in considering how the results of such studies should be interpreted to inform teaching. Research on cognition suggests that a good deal of the knowledge that people call upon in interpreting their world and making decisions is not accessible to conscious introspection. This has consequences in chemistry education research as individuals are not able to directly report implicit knowledge – so it can only be elicited indirectly. A corollary is that the results of many research studies reporting student conceptions in chemistry need to be understood as reflecting – at least in part – cognition drawing upon implicit knowledge. The distinction between explicit and implicit knowledge is an important one in understanding chemistry learning given that implicit knowledge operates automatically in cognition without deliberation. This suggests that strategies designed to counter students' alternative conceptions may need to be quite different when such ideas derive from the operation of implicit knowledge rather than students' explicit knowledge. The importance of implicit knowledge elements sometimes labelled as p-prims has been widely recognised in physics education research, and it is argued here that research into student thinking and learning in chemistry needs to take more account of the distinction between explicit and implicit knowledge elements if it is to better inform teaching. Research is needed to understand the repertoire and action of implicit knowledge elements active in chemistry learning. This will then facilitate the design of studies to test out teaching approaches that can recruit the most suitable implicit knowledge elements to support learning of canonical chemical ideas.