Knowledge is personal and it cannot really be managed, though we continue to try. Artifacts of knowledge can be managed and in many cases they can be helpful to others. Learning is the same, I can’t directly transfer my learning to you, but I can try to teach or even train you, based on some good practices. We each have to learn for ourselves, though we can take advantage of the knowledge artifacts passed on by generations of people. It’s also getting easier to take advantage of what other people know as we get more connected online.
My own focus has been on personal knowledge management because managing how each of us makes sense seems to be the required foundation of anything resembling organizational knowledge management. The same goes for organizational learning – it cannot even be conceived to exist without individual learning. When it comes to learning and knowledge, we may be going down the wrong path when we try to put these into organizational buckets and manage them.
As Dave Jonassen has said many times:
Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.
We need people in organizations who can learn and gain knowledge themselves, though not necessarily by themselves. At the organizational level we need people who can work together or in concert on solving problems. Organizations should focus their efforts on helping people work together. It’s about work, or performance, not learning and not knowledge. “How can we help you work?” should be the mantra of all workplace support departments.
Learning and becoming knowledge-able are now basic requirements for every worker. These are basic requirements for life, as much as food and water. We don’t manage what or how our employees eat and we don’t need to manage their knowledge or learning. We can make it easier for them to learn and share knowledge though, just like putting in a cafeteria or a water fountain. Workers need support and tools to develop these personal processes but the organization should stay out of the business of knowledge and learning and instead focus on collaboration.
As Stephen Downes wrote on one of my previous posts:
collaboration means ‘working together’. That’s why you see it in market economies. markets are based on quantity and mass.
cooperation means ’sharing’. That’s why you see it in networks. In networks, the nature of the connection is important; it is not simply about quantity and mass …
You and I are in a network – but we do not collaborate (we do not align ourselves to the same goal, subscribe to the same vision statement, etc), we *cooperate*
In a networked society, we are re-learning how to co-operate as we take our networks with us, wherever we go. Once inside an organization it is necessary to focus our group work on a task or mission and that requires collaboration. Collaboration is what organizations should primarily focus on. Successful collaborative efforts are the measure of a successful organization. All of that focus and energy on managing knowledge and learning is wasted because it can’t really be managed anyway.