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Knowledge Management and E-Learning. Paul Stacey

E-Learning: Oct. 28th 2000

Paul Stacey

Leaders of organizations are beginning to realize that their ability to compete and be successful depends on the knowledge of their people, their ability to create that knowledge, share it, leverage it and apply it more innovatively and faster than their competitors.
Verna Allee, President, Integral Performance Group

(This quote was excerpted from a RealPlayer video clip of Verna Allee speaking on Knowledge Management. The video clip and other great resources can be found at click2learn's e-Learning Insights site at the bottom of the following page: http://home.click2learn.com/broadcast/resources.html)

Some organizations, especially consulting firms, have been pursuing knowledge management strategies for several years. Within the enterprise, knowledge management is unfolding on a separate but parallel track to e-learning.

What is knowledge management? How do knowledge management and e-learning intersect? Lets take a look.

Why Knowledge Management?

The rationale for knowledge management is compelling.

Information technology has enabled organizations to re-engineer the way they operate. New infrastructures allow organizations to take advantage of the transactional and communication capabilities information technology provides.

As these new capabilities are tapped the need for knowledge management has emerged in a number of ways:

  • The new economy thrives on producing information and passing it at unprecedented rates among partners, employees, and customers. As the size and complexity of the enterprise increases the volume of information increases and becomes fragmented. The sheer volume of data and information can be overwhelming. The need to identify the important pieces that enable effective action in the interest of the enterprise becomes critical. Information needs to be distilled into knowledge. Turning information and data into knowledge enables effective action.

  • A major element of the enterprise's intellectual capital is its people. Knowledge management puts in place processes and systems to ensure it retains knowledge assets even when expertise leaves. Lessons learned and best practices become accessible and transferable throughout the organization. Without a knowledge management system staff spend large amounts of time reinventing the wheel and often repeating past mistakes. Knowledge management enables the enterprise to maintain, develop, and distribute the knowledge expertise of its people.

  • Knowledge management enables the organization to quickly get partners up to speed on its products, processes, and requirements and vice versa. Knowledge management facilitates ease of partnering.

  • Reacting quickly to new opportunities requires the enterprise to distribute decision-making authority (and the competencies to do so). Organizations pursuing knowledge management are building a collaborative culture that moves away from traditional knowledge hoarding to a new culture of knowledge sharing. Knowledge management is an integral part of the new collaborative culture allowing for decentralized decision making and trust that the right decisions will be made.

  • A large part of the value add in high tech companies is created by knowledge-based services such as product and system design, research and development, market intelligence, customer contact and relationship management, distribution, and brand management. Knowledge management systems define and provide access to these knowledge-based services and sustain their value by keeping them current.
  • What is Knowledge?

    Knowledge is commonly distinguished from data and information. Data represents facts often in the form of measurements. Information places data within a meaningful context.

    Knowledge is an understanding of information acquired by study, investigation, observation, or experience. A tactical definition of knowledge is the ability to turn information and data into effective action. In this sense "managing knowledge" means delivering the understanding of information and data people need to be effective in their jobs. Knowledge can be viewed both as a thing to shared and as an applied process. As a practical matter organizations need to manage knowledge both as an object and as a process.

    It helps to think of the relationship between data, information, and knowledge as a pyramid where data forms the foundation, information forms the middle section, and knowledge resides at the top. In terms of volume, data takes up the most space, information takes up a little less, and knowledge forms the small portion at the top.

    Extracting knowledge involves interpreting volumes of data and information to arrive at concepts and guidelines that can be documented, packaged and delivered to employees, partners, customers, and suppliers who need them.

    Knowledge can be tacit or explicit.

    Tacit knowledge is subconsciously understood and applied, difficult to articulate, developed from direct experience and action, and usually shared through highly interactive conversation, storytelling and shared experience.

    Explicit knowledge is consciously understood and can be more precisely and formally articulated. Explicit knowledge is readily codified, documented, transferred and shared.

    Explicit knowledge can be of several types:

    • knowledge about something - concepts, categories, descriptors (declarative knowledge)
    • knowledge of how something occurs or is performed (procedural knowledge)
    • knowledge why something occurs (causal knowledge)

    Knowledge management is particularly challenged in attempting to explicate, share, and leverage tacit knowledge. Knowledge that has not been articulated represents a lost opportunity to share and leverage that knowledge. If competitors have articulated and shared similar knowledge throughout their organization, they may obtain competitive advantage.

    Implementing Knowledge Management

    Implementations of knowledge management focus on four main aspects:

    • People: To support knowledge management the enterprise needs to define who its knowledge users, knowledge authors and knowledge analysts are.

    • Culture: Creating an organization that shares knowledge rather than hoards knowledge is a big change. Organizational status, power, and success based on collective sharing of knowledge as opposed to knowledge sharing on a "need to know" basis is major. If people don't want to share, they are not going to do it even if you have the best technology in the world. People won't share if they don't see what's in it for them. Changes in performance and incentive systems may be necessary to create a culture where knowledge sharing is the norm. It will be necessary to develop measurements that track knowledge contributions, development and re-use.

    • Content: Creating and managing data, information, and knowledge important to the success of the enterprise is at the heart of knowledge management. Knowledge management goes significantly beyond storage and retrieval. Knowledge management involves extracting meaning/understanding out of data/information and then sharing/distributing it.

    • Technology: The technical infrastructure that enables the capture, storage, and delivery of content to those who need it, when they need it. Technology is an enabler not the solution. From a technical infrastructure point of view knowledge management goes beyond storage and retrieval to include systems for collaboration & sharing along with push technologies that don't require users to pull from a data repository but rather broadcast knowledge on a daily basis

    Knowledge management is far easier to understand than to implement. The biggest challenge is not the strategy or technology but the cultural change.

    Knowledge Management Providers

    If you want to explore and learn more about knowledge management check out Knowledge Management World at http://www.kmworld.com

    If you want to explore a real knowledge management marketplace go to my personal favourite, Vancouver's very own Knexa http://www.knexa.com. Knexa is the world's first dynamically priced eMarketplace for digital knowledge. You can buy and sell knowledge directly at Knexa and even become a Knowledge Agent!

    Companies providing knowledge management technologies include:

    Tacit - http://www.tacit.com. Tacit's Knowledge Mail transforms your enterprise e-mail system into a fully automated knowledge discovery and exchange centre.

    Autonomy - http://www.autonomy.com. Autonomy's technology solutions automatically read, categorize, hyperlink and personalize internal and external information including documents, presentations, articles and web pages.

    There are lots of others but this will get you started.

    E-Learning and Knowledge Management

    There are several commonalties between e-learning and knowledge management. Both deal with knowledge exchange and creating communities where knowledge is shared.

    Recent developments in the e-learning space point to another point of intersection between e-learning and knowledge management - learning object repositories.

    Learning objects are discrete chunks of reusable online learning resources. A learning objects or knowledge element as it is sometimes called can be an applet, animation, streaming audio/video or other form of online content. The benefit of a learning object rests in the principle of "develop once, use many" such that the same learning object can be linked and appropriately used in multiple places. When a change is made to a learning object all places linked to it are updated instantly.

    Creating central repositories of reusable learning objects using object oriented design and metadata has been an aspiration for some time. Several providers are now doing just that and positioning the resulting capability as serving the needs of both e-learning and knowledge management.

    Generation 21 http://www.gen21.com claims to have the only fully integrated solution to training and knowledge management. Generation 21's Total Knowledge Management (TKM) system uses Dynamic Learning Object technology to integrate learning, knowledge management, and performance support. Using TKM you author knowledge or learning objects and store them in a relational database that's accessible enterprise-wide.

    Peer3 http://www.peer3.com thinks of itself as a knowledge management software company focused on people, knowledge and learning. It recently won the "Extraordinary Products Award" at Online Learning 2000. Peer3 software incorporates knowledge management and e-learning technologies including the capability for content management, reusable objects, XML (extensible markup data format, and metadata tagging.

    XML and metadata are emerging as key technologies for e-learning and will be explored in future columns.

    Knowledge management and e-learning two sides of the same coin?

    Paul Stacey is the Director of Corporate Education and Training at the Technical University of British Columbia, a long time education professional in the high tech private sector, and an e-learner.

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