posted 1 Mar 2000 in Volume 3 Issue 6
New Age learning
As we move into the age of the 'knowledge worker' what role will traditional forms of learning play when organisations have access to cheap and efficient knowledge management solutions? Consider, for a moment, the role training has typically played until now. A large proportion of training courses rely, or have relied, on students memorising correct procedures, rules, facts or functions. Much of the course dealt with the 'how to do it' as much as the 'why to do it' . Yet when we consider how poor most manuals are, how out of date, how complex and how little used, it is not difficult to understand why things have to change.
Let us consider
for a moment the promise of knowledge management; that memorisation of any kind
of factual information will become unnecessary. This is essentially what
knowledge management technology, excluding collaboration, is about - the
collection, storage and retrieval of factual information. In some cases, there
is also an attempt to interpret the meaning or subject of a document, but this
is really only another way of trying to refine the ubiquitous search engine.
This, then, is the first fallacy of knowledge management. It does not matter how
sophisticated the technology is At this stage it is only managing information
assets, it is not managing knowledge. There is quite a distinction. Now, why do
I draw it?
In some definitions, data (raw facts) becomes information when it is categorised, analysed, summarised and placed into a business context. For example, we sold so many somethings in this geographical area over such-and-such a period of time, and it is part of a trend of increasing sales in somethings. All very interesting stuff, but it is not knowledge - no matter how cleverly I store, index, retrieve or present it. It only becomes knowledge when I can answer the question 'why?' with a sentence containing 'because'. Computers cannot do this - they cannot interpret information and transform it into knowledge; people (knowledge workers) do this. Of course, once we have made the interpretation, gained an insight, reached a conclusion, made a decision and so on, we can go back to the technology to help us work together, share our findings and execute our plans, which is where the human comes in again.
My point, therefore, is that knowledge management of any kind, cannot work without the vital ingredient of the 'knowledge worker' - something often forgotten when business looks for its next IT panacea. However, the change required in human behaviour to leverage the potential of knowledge management is enormous, as is the challenge for trainers and 'learning organisations' . We have to break the cycle, started in school, of reliance on memory. Instead, we should concentrate on where people add value, in being ingenious, cynical, intuitive, multi-dimensional, empathic, creative, inventive, critical, valuing, reasoning and so on. When was the last time you heard of a computer described as any of these things? And if this all sounds a bit 'new age', perhaps it is because we are in a new age.
Peter Dorrington is a principal consultant for ECsoft UK Ltd. He can be contacted at:Peter.Dorrington@ecsoft.co.uk